|I wrote a blog at http://www.questionsaboutdogs.blogspot.com about how to "Winterize your dog." Hope it helps!
It was 9F when I woke up this morning. 9F. Ahhh... Minnesota.
When it comes to winter weather, what should you worry about with your dog?
Is this a marketing plan, or do I really need to dress my dog in a flannel coat? My dog, JP, happens to be a short-haired dog, and when it's this cold, he actually does need a jacket sometimes. If it's a quick walk around the block, or if you're just letting him out the backdoor (into a fenced-in yard only, right?) for a minute, then it's not necessary. That said, certain breeds (such as Greyhounds, Chinese Crested, Italian greyhounds, Salukis, etc.) have an extremely thin hair coat. Top that off with little body fat, and they do needed the added protection of a dog coat. Remember, 40% of dogs in America are obese nowadays, but the site hounds (i.e., Greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, whippets, etc.) typically aren't. Your typical fuzzy German shepherd, Golden retriever, or labrador doesn't usually need a coat, unless you're planning on going for a full afternoon in negative-degree weather with severe windchill. At that point, you should question your own sanity in going out in that weather!
When picking a coat, make sure it's snug. If it's too large, I often find that the belly band (that wraps around your dog's prepuce) ends up bearing all the marking... in other words, Fido tends to pee on it. If your dog is a female, no problem, but when in doubt, make sure the coat fits well.
For those poor outdoor dogs living in cold weather states or countries... make sure you're providing a warm shelter where your dog can a) snuggle up in some clean, dry straw, b) get out of the wind, snow, or sleet with a solid, draft-free shelter, c) eat some extra calories to help provide calories for warmth, and d) drink water. Now I know that seems intuitive, but I can't tell you how many people forget that their dog's water bowl is frozen. This can lead to a life-threatening high sodium level (hypernatremia) due to the inability to take in free water, and can result in a very bad, dangerous type of dehydration (hypertonic dehydration). Counter this problem by either bringing your dog in during the winter, getting a water heater, going out to offer warm water several times a day, or making sure to bait your dog's food (feeding warm broth/water mixed in the the kibble).
Do your neighbors happen to throw a lot of environmentally unfriendly salt onto the sidewalks? If so, be wary and take the time to wipe it off your dog's feet. You don't want those chemicals or that salt sitting on the pads - or more importantly - the sensitive interdigital (inter-toe) area of his feet. Not only is this irritating, but you don't want your dog licking and swallowing all those chemicals. Use a damp terry cloth and wipe his paws once he gets inside (or my lazier version is to walk him through some salt-free snow before he comes into the house).
When in doubt, don't feed your dog more during the winter. You heard me. You know how we all gain that winter weight (at least we Minnesoteans do)? Well, you don't want your dog to do the same. You're likely not exercising your dog as vigorously during the cold months, and your dog doesn't need the extra calories unless he's living outdoors year round. Like I said before, a majority of the dogs I see are obese. I know it's tough love, and you don't think this applies to your dog, but it likely does... so unless you can feel ribs and see a nice "tucked" belly, hold off on that extra food. This counts for you too. Check out Purina's Body Condition Scoring website to see how your dog's bod compares.
Edited by moderator Wed Dec 24, '08 12:20pm PST