Does your dog love the winter wonderland or would he rather cuddle up on the couch under a cozy blanket? Either way, you must be prepared to protect him when he ventures out into the elements.
• Don't over-feed your dog during the winter. Although dogs are in need of an extra layer during the winter season…make sure it comes from a coat, and not fat.. Be attentive to your dog's activity level and adjust his calories accordingly. Always feed your dog a high quality natural dog food to insure a healthy coat and good energy for the cold winter months.
• Keep your dog hydrated. Dogs can dehydrate just as quickly in the winter as summer. Many dogs eat snow, but it is not an adequate substitute for fresh water. If your dog has a water bowl outdoors, check it often and break ice that may form on top.
• Let's talk temperature! If it is too cold for you to stand at the door without your coat, it is probably too cold for your dog to be out without a coat. Some dog breeds have dense undercoats that help protect them against cold temperatures, but most dogs should have a coat to help them deal with Jack Frost. Coats are not just about fashion, they are also functional! Coats will not prevent frostbite on the ears, feet or tail…don't keep your dog out too long in freezing temperatures.
• Provide extra bedding and warmth for your dog. Limit your dog's time outdoors on cold days and provide warm indoor shelter. Place your dog's bed in a warm spot; away from drafts, cold tile or uncarpeted floors.
• Protect your dog from burns. Dogs will often seek heat during the cold winter weather by snuggling too close to heating sources. Avoid space heaters and lamps and place baseboard radiator covers to avoid unnecessary burns. Fireplaces also pose a major threat and a pet-proof system should be used to keep your heat-seeking pal out of harms way!
• Groom your dog. A clean, well-groomed coat will keep your dog properly insulated. This is especially important if your dog lives outdoors. Choose natural, detergent-free grooming products that will not strip your dog's skin and coat of essential oils that help protect them against the winter elements. After bathing, dry your dog adequately before allowing him outdoors.
• Protect your dog's feet. Dogs walk through snow, slush, salt and chemicals. Although doggie booties sound corny, they can prevent painful injuries. Or clean your dog's feet every time he comes into the house. Use warm water and clean between the toes to remove all debris and salt. Apply a small amount of a natural salve every day to keep pads from cracking. Avoid using any chemical ice-melting compounds or rock salt on your sidewalks or driveways that your dog may contact.
• Avoid toxin exposure. With winter comes antifreeze which is sweet in taste and dogs will readily lick or drink it. Antifreeze is extremely toxic and a small amount can be fatal for dogs. Keep your dog out of the garage and off the driveway where they may encounter antifreeze or other harmful chemicals.
• Dogs should NEVER be left in cars unattended, no matter what season. Freezing cold temperatures are the main concern during winter. If the car is left running during the winter (especially in a garage), carbon monoxide poisoning is a threat.
• Special medical needs. Cold weather can aggravate existing medical conditions in dogs, particularly arthritis. Maintain an exercise regimen with your arthritic dog, but be mindful of slippery surfaces and make sure your dog has a warm soft resting area to recuperate after activity. Try the addition of a natural glucosamine supplement to lubricate the joints. Contact your vet if you detect any unusual symptoms in your dog. Never use over the counter medication without the advice of your veterinarian.
Paying special attention to your dog's well-being during the winter season will insure that you both enjoy the Winter Wonderland to its fullest. ◊
Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM, is a renowned, board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist, an active AVMA and AVHMA member, and leading speaker and writer on pet health and nutrition. She is widely recognized for her role as consulting veterinarian to HALO, Purely for Pets and her TV appearances with Halo co-owner Ellen DeGeneres. Dr. Donna performs medical, nutrition and weight loss consultations for dogs and cats through her web-based veterinary consulting service, www.SpectorDVM.com.