Despite, the freezing temperatures we can't deny that this is a beautiful time of year. Some of us love wrapping up warm in our hats, scarves and gloves and going for a big walk to enjoy the winter scenery. Unfortunately, we can't always say the same for our dog and there are risks in this weather that some may have never considered. So let's consider some of the risks and how you can keep your dog safe in these cold temperatures.
Dog Coats and Jumpers
It is easy to conclude that dogs have a fur coat to keep them warm and are therefore more resistant to colder temperatures than humans, but this isn't actually true. While some breeds, like huskies are more tolerant to the cold, no dog should be kept outside for prolonged periods or forced to walk in extremely cold weather. Dogs with short coats (or dogs that have been groomed to have a short coat), should always be provided with a warm waterproof coat and even a warm jumper, to keep them warm on their walks, as they are just as vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia as we are.
Many would assume that small lap dogs, such as Yorkie’s and Shihtzu’s would be more susceptible to the cold, especially since their belly’s are so close to the ground, due to their short legs. However, large breeds, such as grey hounds, great Danes, Weimaraners and boxers, can be just as sensitive to the cold, thus coats should be provided regardless of your dog’s size.
Dog Age and Health
Today many dogs suffer with arthritis and other medical issues, and the cold can make these conditions much worse, just like it can in humans. Unbeknownst to many, dogs suffering with diabetes, kidney disease, cushings disease and heart disease can actually struggle to regulate their body temperature, which may make them more vulnerable to the cold temperatures, even when they are not necessarily extreme. Therefore, it is wise to limit their exposure to the cold weather where possible and have breaks from walks on really cold days.
Snow and ice can be difficult for an elderly or sick dog to walk on and they may be fearful of falling over. Forcing them to walk in the conditions when they are not very steady on their legs will likely result in injury and anxiety. If your dog doesn't want to go out for a walk, provide them with lots of enrichment activities they can do in the warmth of their home, such as snuffle mats and puzzle feeders. There is no shame in having breaks from walks. You could also consider a dog pram, which many are using nowadays so that dogs suffering with illnesses like arthritis, can still enjoy the outdoors. If you do use a dog pram, make sure your dog still has a coat on and a warm blanket to snuggle into. While it may be obvious to some that senior dogs struggle in colder temperatures, it should also be noted that puppies are also vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
Dogs and Frozen Lakes
If your dog loves water, it is wise to keep them on lead around ponds and lakes during the winter. Frozen lakes can be fatal to both humans and dogs. If your dog were to run on the ice and fall into the freezing water, they could develop hypothermia, not to mention you may also risk your own life to rescue them, so keep your dog on lead this time of year is critical.
Dog Winter Paw Injuries
Ice balls can accumulate between your dog's paws and on their coat in icy or snowy weather. Many find this really comical and will take photos and videos of their dog struggling to walk and share it on social media. These ice balls can actually cut your dog’s paws and/or cause pain and even temporary lameness. Using dog booties/shoes (if they feel comfortable wearing them) or limiting your dog’s exposure to the weather can help prevent injury to their paws. Trimming the fur between your dog's toes, can also help prevent ice balls accumulating and causing discomfort. After a walk, you should always clean your dog's paws with warm water, to get rid of any ice that may be stuck between your dog's toes.
It is common this time of year to see lots of grit on the roads and pavements, to make it safer for pedestrians and drivers. Unfortunately, since grit contains a high level of salt, it can cause burns and inflammation on the pads of your dog’s paws. Grit can also be toxic if it is ingested, which can happen if a dog licks his paws after walking on it. Therefore, it's important to avoid walking on grit where possible and thoroughly washing your dog's paws with warm water and a cloth to get between the pads after every walk. Your dog may also unintentionally walk on spilt antifreeze from people de-icing their cars. Since this is highly toxic, it is another good reason to thoroughly wash your dog's paws, legs and belly with warm water after each walk.
In previous years, we have never been concerned at keeping our dogs warm in the home, but with the significant rise in energy costs, many are struggling to afford heating. If this is the case, you can still keep your dog warm by putting them in a jumper, providing lots of warm blankets and regularly filling a covered hot water bottle for them. Age, breed, coat type and health can all influence your dog's vulnerability, so it's vital to take these factors into consideration to keep your dog safe during these winter months.
Every dog deserves to feel warm and comfortable, so it is our duty of care to protect our dogs from the cold by whatever means possible
Holly Leake is a tutor, dog writer and canine behaviourist who also runs her own business in Staffordshire UK. If you would like to learn more about your dog with Holly, take a look at our Advanced Canine Body Language Course.