We’ve already had a blast of winter weather here in Baltimore and since it’s only January, it is likely there is more to come. Extreme weather conditions always mean taking a few extra minutes to make sure your dog is comfortable and safe. Here are things to consider before you venture out with your canine friend.
Your Dog’s Coat: If your dog is a breed with a thick double coat, such as a husky, malamute or great Pyrenees, he can handle harsh weather far longer than a dog with a single layer coat. You might see greyhounds wearing coats in cold weather. The short single layer coat of this breed, combined with low body fat, makes him susceptible to harsh weather conditions. On very cold and windy days, keep walks to a minimum for at risk breeds, or consider buying your dog a coat or a snowsuit.
Your Dog’s Size: Small and toy breeds are at a higher risk for hypothermia because their small body size means they lose heat more quickly than larger dogs. Try to exercise your dog during the warmer parts of the day and consider protective outerwear.
Arthritis: Dogs with joint or spinal disease may find it hard to keep their footing on slippery surfaces. Keep your dog’s toenails trimmed so he can grip the ground easier, and be sure to use a pet friendly deicer on sidewalks and surfaces where he will walk. If your dog is really struggling to stay upright on icy sidewalks, consider buying him dog booties, which help provide extra traction. Cold and damp weather also increases an arthritic dog’s discomfort, so make sure he has a warm and well padded place to rest when he comes in and limit outdoor exposure on very cold and wet days. If you give medications for arthritis pain, ask your vet about modifying the dose or regimen if needed during the winter months.
Other Health Concerns: Dogs with thyroid or heart disease will have a harder time maintaining body temperature and overexertion caused by struggling through deep snow or icy walk ways is a concern for heart and elderly patients. Make sure to clear the way for your pet to walk if he has any of these health problems.
Age: Older dogs and puppies don’t retain body heat like young adult dogs do. Use appropriate protective wear and limit exposure on extreme days.
Road Salt, Antifreeze and Other Poisons: Road salt is extremely harsh and can cause chemical burns to the pads of your dog’s feet. Wash your pet’s feet off after walks to help prevent this uncomfortable condition. Wiping with a damp cloth is helpful but dunking your pet’s feet in a bucket of warm water and toweling dry is even better. Use pet friendly deicer products on your own property. Antifreeze is another concern. This engine liquid has a sweet smell and taste that is attractive to pets. Even a small amount is toxic. If you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze, he needs to be seen for an exam and diagnostics right away. Keep your dog on a leash during walks to reduce the chances of him finding and licking antifreeze and fix any leaks in your engine promptly. Finally, be aware of rodent poison dangers. Rat and mouse poison are something to always be aware of, but when temperatures drop and rodents try to find their way inside, your neighbors may resort to poison. Keeping your dog leashed when out on walks will help. If the rodent problem is in your home or yard, try traps and non-rodenticide options first and if you do choose to put down rodent bait, inspect your property before letting your dog have free access. And keep the packaging! In the event your dog does ingest rat poison, we need to know what kind of bait it was to choose appropriate treatment.
Hypothermia: Cold wind and rain can cause hypothermia in at risk breeds, even when it is above freezing. Signs of hypothermia, or loss of core body temperature, are shallow breathing, shivering, weakness and lack of coordination. Once past the shivering stage, hypothermia progresses rapidly and is a life threatening condition.
Frostbite: Dogs can get frostbite too! Frostbite refers to tissue that has been damaged from exposure to freezing weather. Signs include swelling, pale color and irritation. Once frostbite commences, the tissue must be warmed back up slowly to prevent further damage. Ears, paws and tails are most prone to frostbite.
Frozen lakes and ponds: If you live somewhere with bodies of water that freeze partially or completely, including the boat lake in Patterson Park, keep your dog on a leash when it has been cold enough for ice to form. Dogs have been known to chase squirrels or rabbits onto thin ice and fall through to the frigid water below. Many dogs have reduced senses of smell, hearing and vision in winter weather and can get lost easily. For safety’s sake, keep your dog leashed and limit off leash activities to fenced dog parks.
Enjoy the winter, be safe and hang tight! Only 11 weeks until the Spring Equinox!