The main issues dogs encounter in the winter is frostbite and hypothermia.
WebMD’s first tip: know the warning signs of a dog in danger. You should look for these signs in your dog’s behavior: excessive whining or anxiety, shivering, ice present on the body, sudden halt in movement, and the dog burrowing to seek warmth. In any of those cases, the body temperature has severely lowered and the dog is entering the canine version of the fight or flight response. Any of these can be signs of hypothermia.
According to WebMD author Amanda Gardner, “Pets are just as likely to get frostbite (frozen skin and tissue) and hypothermia (low body temperature) as their owners. These can be signs of hypothermia. Once he’s out of the cold, wrap him in blankets and call the vet for more instructions.”
Tip number two: limit the amount of time dogs spends outside. Their ears and paws are exposed to the cold and can cause abrasions. Limit the amount of time the dog is going to be outside unless they are going to be active and exercising. Getting them big winter jackets and sweaters can help, but no dog is meant to spend hours on end outside in the arctic weather.
K.C. Theisen, director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States, shared that no dog is built to spend excessive amounts of time outside, even dog-sled dogs. The safest thing to do is monitor the dogs as they are outside and cut walks short to get the pups inside in the warmth as soon as possible.
Tip number three: if there are no biting temperatures and you need something a little bit small to help keep them warm, sweaters and jackets inside the house provide external support for heating up. If a dog is just lounging around the house, this is a good option to warm them up if they spent some time outdoors and need to warm up.
“A sweater or coat can be a really nice addition that makes the pet more comfortable,” Theisen said in a statement on WebMD. The golden rule is keep their head bare. “If it’s so cold that you think you should cover their head, you probably shouldn’t go outdoors.”
Tip number four: keep their paws clean. After letting the dogs in, wipe down their paws to avoid a build up of ice, snow, salt, and antifreeze. When dogs go to clean their paws themselves, they are at risk to ingest antifreeze which may come over as sweet but it can be deadly. Check the pads of their paws for cuts or openings and clean them out with water often. The only thing worse than ingesting toxic chemicals is having it enter through cuts.
Tip number five: don’t leave the dogs alone in the car. Everyone knows it is illegal to leave a dog alone in a car in the summer because of the heat, but the same rule applies for winter. Dogs are not meant to be left alone in drastic temperatures, whether it be super hot or super cold. Not only can that harm them, but it is illegal. According to Connecticut laws, it is illegal to engage in animal cruelty and leaving an animal unattended in a car can be seen as cruelty. Cars cool down in a matter of minutes, so even a quick run in to the grocery store puts the dogs are risk. Don’t do it.
Finally, tip number six: be prepared to protect your dog from the elements. If there is no other option but to leave the canines outside, make sure there is a warm place for them to burrow if needed. Make sure they have access to water, if it is below freezing outside leave the water dish inside with the pet. If you must place water outside, try to invest in an agitator that will keep the water rippling and won’t freeze. If temperatures are in the negatives, limit the amount of time outside to a few minutes at most. Puppies are just as sensitive to the biting cold as we are. They have less control than humans, so they need help staying cozy this winter season.
Coming from the owner of a four year old German Shepherd lab mix and a seven month old German Shepherd Miniature Pinscher, I can recommend leaving your dogs out for shorter periods of time but let them out more frequently. It’s safe to set a timer for forty five minutes and let the dogs out for five minute periods. After the timer goes off, let them out for another five minutes and continue throughout the day. If temperatures reach lows below negative ten, it’s your best bet to walk your dog yourself to ensure that they are acting normal and not showing any signs of illness or fatigue. Especially for people with high energy dogs, like myself, keep an eye out to see if they are acting more slow.
It is easy to notice when a dog is struggling to walk. Check their paws often to look for cracks or abrasions, and clean them with purified water often. With the dirty snow covering the ground, you need to make sure nothing bad can get in the dog’s immune system and cause some harm. Dogs can’t take care of themselves like we humans can, so it’s our responsibility to help them zoom through the brutal winter.