Cold Weather Dog Safety Tips from Ears to Paws

Winter Storm Jonas is set to hit the east coast of the U.S. this weekend, marking one of the first big storms of 2016. Dog owners, are you ready for the snow, ice, sleet and just plain COLD weather of winter? From ears to paws and from nose to tail, we’ve got you and your pup covered.

Winter weather dog safety infographic

Click on the image at right to view and download our handy Cold Weather Dog Safety infographic, starring DogWatch Office Dog Lucy!

 

Paws

Starting from the bottom – the hazards of winter can be dangerous to your pup’s paws. Dogs’ paws are naturally thick and leathery and offer some protection against hard surfaces and the elements, but all the salt, sand, snow, ice, and de-icing chemicals can cause dry paws, cracking, irritation, injury, and even infection. Here are four tips to help keep those paws healthy.

  • Dog booties, be they cloth or rubber, are a great way to protect paws from winter hazards. Of course, not every dog will tolerate them. (We know – we’ve tried with our office dogs!)
  • Musher's Secret, a popular paw wax developed in Canada for sled dogs.

    Musher’s Secret, a popular paw wax developed in Canada for sled dogs.

    A less cumbersome option is paw wax, which forms a protective coating over the paws and protects them from direct contact with harmful surfaces or chemicals. For DIY types, check out this at-home recipe for paw wax from the Newfoundland breed club that AKC shared recently.

  • Keep a towel by the door to remind you to wipe your pup’s paws after every trip outside during snow season. In addition to keeping your floors clean, this also prevents your dog from licking and ingesting potentially harmful de-icing chemicals.
  • Finally, keep fur trimmed around the paws to prevent ice balls from forming.

For more info about paw safety, check out our Dog Paw Care 101 blog post.

Torso

Many dogs need help keeping their bodies warm when the mercury drops, including:

  • Short-coated dogs like Greyhounds and Whippets
  • Toy breeds like Chihuahuas, Yorkies and French Bulldogs,
  • Dogs with short-cropped coats, including many Poodles and Terriers.
The DogWatch Office Dog Sweater Crew

The DogWatch Office Dog Sweater Crew

For dogs that need extra protection, invest in a well-fitted sweater or coat for trips outdoors. Make sure it isn’t too tight that it restricts movement or too loose that he’ll trip over it. Some companies, such as Houndz in the Hood, make breed-specific dog clothing in a variety of lengths and cuts, so you can find the perfect fit. For example, their Greyhound and Whippet lines feature turtlenecks to shield those breeds’ long and graceful necks from the elements.

In contrast, some dogs are built for the winter weather, with a thick double coat of fur to keep their bodies warm. Think Newfoundlands, Huskies, Saint Bernards and other breeds. These breeds do NOT need a winter coat – they’re already got one! The extra insulation of a thick sweater or dog coat could actually cause them to overheat, so let them go out au naturel.

Finally, puppies, senior pets and pets with heart disease or other serious medical issues are particular susceptible to the cold weather, and have a harder time keeping warm outdoors, even with the extra protection of sweaters and booties. When the wet, freezing weather takes hold, keep trips outside to a minimum and make sure they have a safe, cozy spot indoors to rest.

Nose, Ears and Tip of the Tail

Extreme temperatures can result in frostbite, and for dogs, the paws, nose, ears and the tip of tail can be especially vulnerable to this serious winter ailment. VCA Animal Hospital reports that the symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Pale, grayish discoloration of the affected area of skin
  • Coldness and/or brittleness of the area when touched
  • Pain when you touch the body part(s)
  • Swelling of the affected area(s)
  • Blisters or skin ulcers
  • Areas of blackened or dead skin

If you suspect your dog may have frostbite, visit your veterinarian immediately. While traveling to the vet, VCA recommends that you handle the affected areas with extreme care, and wrap the pet in warm towels or blankets. See their website for more details about frostbite signs and treatment.

Because of the risk of frostbite, hypothermia and other winter weather hazards, dogs who live in climates that experience cold weather should never live outdoors only. Even hearty and snow-loving dogs need shelter and protection from the snow, wind and rain of the winter months.

Brain

Winter weather healthcare isn’t just about shielding them from the outdoor elements. It’s also about keeping their minds and bodies active, even when they’re stuck indoors. In anticipation of last year’s Winter Storm Juno, which hit our home state of Massachusetts last January and left 2 feet of snow in its wake, we pulled together seven indoor games to play with your pup when you’re snowed in. Here’s a few highlights from that list.

  • DogWatch office dog Nellie with her Kong toy

    DogWatch office dog Nellie with her Kong toy

    Place your dog’s meal or some healthy treats in a Kong or puzzle toy! It’s a workout for their mind and body, and it comes with it’s own built-in reward. If you don’t have one of these toys, make your own by placing treats in a muffin tin and covering the holes with tennis balls.

  • Play doggie basketball! Grab a laundry basket and your pup’s favorite ball. With your dog watching, drop the ball in the basket and say “drop.” After doing this a number of times, hand the ball to the dog and say “drop.” If he drops it in the basket, reward with lots of praise and a treat.
  • Teach your dog to run on a treadmill! These running machines can be a great substitute for walks when the weather is bad. As Cesar Milan advises on his site, it is important to start slow, and make sure your dog is accustomed to the movement before increasing speed or using the treadmill regularly.

Do you have any additional winter safety tips to share? Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page. Stay warm and don’t forget to have fun!

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