How to Keep Your Dog Cozy and Safe in the Winter Months
Keeping dogs safe from winter dangers -- and avoiding canine boredom -- becomes a challenge when the latest cold front rolls in and traps pets (and their humans) indoors for the duration. So what’s a savvy, responsible dog lover to do? How do you keep your dog safe and engaged even during winter's icy blast? Here are some tips.
Cold-weather breed basics
Dogs with heavy double coats like sled dog types -- you know the ones who shed and leave drifts of fur in the spring? -- tend to do best in winter weather. In addition to Alaskan Malamutes, Huskies, Samoyeds, and American Eskimo dogs, other double-coated breeds like my German Shepherd may also enjoy a snowball fight or Frisbee fetch in the cold.
It goes beyond wool fur, though, and sometimes too much fur can cause problems. With care and supervision, most dogs can be safe for short spells outside. Be extra careful with these breeds during the winter:
Short-coated breeds. Beagles, Dachshunds, Boxers, and Dobermans, along with other breeds and mixes with similar thin, short or single coats, need extra care. Their fashionable fur offers little protection from the cold or wet, and even heavily furred dog’s extremities (ears, tail, toes, scrotum) are at high risk for frostbite -- yowch!
Golden oldies. “Senior and geriatric dogs are more at risk for hyperthermia, frostbite and other cold weather-related conditions,” cautions Arden Moore, the Pawsitive Coach. “You can’t control the weather, but you can protect your dog by ushering him away from icy sidewalks or places where salt has been spread to melt the ice.”
Toy breeds. Small dogs may think they’re Kings of Mutt-Town, but tiny bodies have less ability to generate and maintain normal body heat. The little guys like Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Pugs may have big-dog attitudes but small body mass make them more susceptible to hypothermia, the deadly fall of body temperature.
Fluffy toes. Even dogs with long fur get into trouble if outside too long. Pay attention to fuzzy feet. While the hairy paws of Cockers and Goldens act like protective doggy snowshoes, the fur collects ice balls that hurt and bruise. Check for ice on the longish fur of tummies, tails, and armpits in the long-furred pets, too.
“Always inspect your dog’s paws for any signs of salt or ice. Use warm (not hot) water to safely flush away salt or ice that can cut paws,” says Moore, a master certified pet first aid/CPR instructor and canine behavior expert.
Avoiding the winter blues
"Never let weather be an excuse not to engage in purposeful play with your dog,” says Moore. Whether your dog hates outside potty breaks or needs a break from canine incarceration, these tips can help improve his pet attitude:
Dress him up. Give cold canines, especially those short-furred and Toy-size pooches, a sweater. That may reduce their reluctance to squat in the cold during potty breaks.
Clear a spot. Be sure there’s a snow-free zone for your little guy to “pose” and comfortably be creative when nature calls. Otherwise, she may prefer to do her business in the warm house!
Schedule games. A bored dog gets into all kinds of trouble, so adapt favorite outdoor fun to indoor games. My dog, Magic, loves fetch, but to prevent breakage in the house, only soft toys are tossed low to the ground. Be sure to clear the area -- maybe a long hall -- so dogs get exercise even when confined inside.
Puzzle your pooch. Foraging toys like food puzzle toys engage the dog’s sniff sense and exercise his brain. Feeding measured meals in puzzle toys reduces pudgy pooches, too. Moore also suggests you test your dog’s hunting skills in a fun activity. Close your dog in a room. Then in a separate room, hide six to eight treats. Bring your dog into the room and encourage him to sniff out all the treats. Employ voice cues and hand signals to help him.
Drill the dog. Does she know tricks? Will he sit up and beg for treats, toys, and praise? Practice and reward to keep skills sharp, and maybe teach new tricks. Moore suggests when it is too cold or icy for outdoor play, reinforce your dog’s “come” cue by playing a fun “I hide, you seek” obedience drill. Put your dog in a sit/stay in one room, or have a family member or friend hold the dog. Go to another room and hide. Then in an upbeat voice, call your dog. “Magic, come!” and reward your dog with praise or bite-sized treats for finding you.
Snuggle up the pup. Are you stuck home from school or work? That’s the perfect excuse for pup-tastic belly rubbing attention! "It's snowing? Time for a cuddle!" Your dogs will look forward to the next snow days, and you’ll both stay warmer and save on the heat bills.
Recognize and prevent antifreeze poisoning
Nobody wants to think their dog could be poisoned but sweet tasting antifreeze ingestion happens all too often. It only takes one tablespoon to kill a 10-pound pet by damaging the kidneys.
Don’t rely on “pet safe” labels -- these are less toxic, but can still cause problems. Bittering agents may be added to some products to make them taste nasty to dogs, but just a couple of laps of spilled liquid from the garage floor could be lethal.
If your dog is poisoned, only early intervention may save his life. If you see the signs below, get your dog to the vet ASAP! The signs may go away within an hour or two, but the damage has already been done.
- Drunken behavior, incoordination
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Rapid breathing
If you see your dog lap up suspect liquid, get to the vet, and take a sample of the vomitus to be tested. Prevent potential poisoning by keeping antifreeze out of doggy reach, and dogs away from leaky cars.
“Prevention is key. That’s why I recommend all people with dogs and cats to take a veterinarian-approved, hands-on pet first aid class, “ says Moore. You can find certified instructors in your area by going to www.pettech.net and entering your zip code.
Learn more about caring for dogs and cold weather:
- How to Shovel a "Path to Poop" in the Snow for Your Dog
- Let's Talk: Do Your Dogs Like Cold Weather?
- Tips for Safe Fun with Your Dogs in the Cold Weather
- 5 Rainy Day Ideas to Keep Dogs Active Indoors
- Dogster's Picks of the Week: Look Smart in the Snow
Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, author of two dozen pet care books, a dog-viewpoint thriller series, and lives with a smart-aleck German Shepherd and a Siamese wannabe—only the dog enjoys winter. She blogs at http://amyshojai.com (Bling, Bitches, & Blood) and writes puppy-licious content at Puppies.About.com, where you can learn more tips for a safe puppy winter.