By Dr. Kate Kuzminski, GDB Medical Director
The cold weather is upon us! This year we have dealt with hot weather tips and emergency preparedness, and now it's time for cold weather safety. Every dog is different, but generally, temperatures below 32F can be problematic for dogs. While we know that age, breed, fitness level, and concurrent medical conditions all influence how a dog can handle cold temperatures if it’s too cold for you, it’s likely too cold for your dog!
Things To Keep In Mind This Winter
Winter can be challenging for dogs with medical issues. Arthritis, obesity and medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease or hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s can impact a dog’s ability to acclimate to cold weather and reduce their mobility. Young, old, ill, or thin dogs shouldn’t be left in cold cars and or left unattended in cold environments.
Paw protection/foot care
Road salt, de-icers, and ice are hazards to your dog’s feet. It is a good idea to check your dog’s paws and pads every day for cuts, cracks, blisters, and bleeding. Trimming the fur on the bottom of the paws helps prevent the snow and ice from accumulating, which can be painful for your dog. Paw balms such as Musher’s Secret Paw Wax can be used daily to keep paws moisturized and healthy. They also provide a barrier to salt and ice when applied before your dog goes outside.
If traveling, baby wipes are a great way to wipe the salt and other de-icing products off of paws. Once home, you can wipe your dog’s feet, legs, and belly with a damp towel to remove these irritating (and toxic) products.
Booties make the winter so much better. There are many great options out there (e.g. Ruffwear and Paws Disposable Booties). Make sure they are comfortable, flexible, and not too tight. Wearing a boot liner or a baby sock can provide extra warmth, absorb moisture, and prevent chaffing. A great way to deal with winter walks is to use Musher’s Secret Paw Wax combined with lightweight protective booties such as Pawz Disposable Booties.
Your dog will stay warmer if they stay dry. If you need to go out, especially for extended periods of time, keep your dog warm and dry through extra clothing. A two-layer coat with a low profile microfleece and the thin moisture-resistant outer layer is a great option. There are even onesies like the K9 Top Coat Arctic Fleece Bodysuit to keep your dog warm and dry.
Frostbite and Hypothermia
Dogs can get frostbite and hypothermia too! If your dog is shivering, whimpering, slows down or stops, seems agitated or weak, it is important to get them inside quickly. This could be an indication that they have hypothermia. Wrap your dog in a warm blanket or coat. (A clothes dryer is a fabulous way to warm blankets and towels). Place warm, towel-wrapped water bottles in your dog’s armpits and around the chest, and call your veterinarian immediately. Don’t use hair dryers, electric blankets, or heating pads to warm a dog with hypothermia.
Severe winter weather, especially when windy, can also lead to frostbite. When exposed to extreme temperatures, the body protects its core body temperature by constricting blood vessels near the skin surface and diverts blood to more vital organs. The reduced blood flow to extremities such as the paws, ears, and tail can cause the tissues to freeze. Watch for skin that is red, blue, grey, or white, skin that stays cold, blisters, swelling, and painful ears, tail, or paws. If you think your dog has frostbite, move to a warm, dry area. Call your veterinarian immediately. In the interim, apply warm (not hot) water to the area for a minimum of 20 minutes. It is important to not rub or massage the affected area. As with hypothermia, avoid hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets to warm up an area with frostbite. Gently pat the area dry once it has been rewarmed with warm water. Your veterinarian will be able to provide more detailed advice.
Additional Winter Safety Tips:
- As with people, a dog’s ability to adapt to cold temperatures is impacted by age. Keep in mind that puppies and senior dogs are more susceptible to cold environments and may need extra care to keep them safe during the winter months.
- Anti-freeze containing ethylene glycol is extremely toxic and causes kidney failure with just a few licks. Keep your dog away from any anti-freeze spills and clean them up quickly. When selecting an anti-freeze product, this year choose one that contains the safer alternative, propylene glycol, instead of ethylene glycol.
- It can be difficult to see dogs walking during these darker months. Use LED dog walking lights/leashes as well as reflective collars, coats, and booties to keep your dog visible and safe. Reflective gear is also a great idea for dog walking people!
- It is a good time to dog-proof your home for the winter months. Houses can get cool so make sure your dog’s bed is in a warm area that is free from drafts. Space heaters can be dangerous around dogs and can be knocked over or cause unintended burns if placed in high traffic areas or near dog beds. Having your furnace serviced and placing carbon monoxide detectors is another way to keep everyone safe this winter..
- When walking your dog, stay away from frozen ponds, lakes, and other frozen bodies of water. Always keep your dog on a leash when near open and frozen water.
- Take some time to refresh and review your disaster/emergency plan for you and your dog. In this time of COVID-19, ensure you have planned for enough food and medications for your dog for 14 days in your emergency planning.
- If your dog’s mobility and comfort seems different in colder weather, it might be a good idea to see your veterinarian. There may be a new medical issue that can be addressed.