Cold Weather and Your Canine Companion

The first day of winter – which was also National Keep Pets Safe in Winter Day – has long since passed, but the risks associated with me and my furry friends being exposed to chilly weather are still cold hard facts. I’m fortunate that my Husky coat provides me with some awesome insulation, but even I have needs to be met to ensure that my comfort zone doesn’t turn into a disaster zone. Although they might seem commonsensical (a human word if there ever was one), I’ve been asked by a few of my puppy pals to share some tips on how you can help us enjoy the winter months as much as we do the rest of the year.

Ten Hot Tips To Keep Your Dog Happy and Healthy During The Winter Months

  1. Like I said, it’s not rocket science (I have no idea what that means, but I hear people say it), so simply start by limiting the amount of time we’re exposed to the cold. Even if we’re use to taking a daily walk around the neighborhood, some days might just be too darn cold to go or at least not as far. My dogged determination to look tough almost makes it impossible for me to admit this, but dogs can also suffer from hypothermia and frostbite, just like human beings who are all bundled up but who exceed their own physical limits.
  2. I know quite a few dogs that aren’t going to be thrilled I said this, but…..if we do go outside for a brief romp, some of us actually don’t mind a little extra “padding.” We might put up a fuss when you pull that coat or vest over our head or when you try to strap some boots onto our feet, but given time to adjust to them, they really can add to our outdoor comfort level. Please just don’t make a big guy like me wear a frilly pink coat that says “Diva” on it to the dog park! You might also want to make sure that such items are waterproof (for our benefit), as well as washable (for your benefit).
  3. The outside winter world has a number of chemical-related risks for dogs that you might forget about or not be aware of. Some of the most common ones we encounter are the products you humans use to melt the ice on your walking surfaces – things like rock salt. While they help people keep standing safely on those two long legs you have, they can actually burn our feet and, if we happen to lick it off, it can cause some serious internal upset and damage. There are now quite a few “pet friendly” ice-melting products on the market, so we ask you nicely to please consider using them instead. The other product we’re at risk of encountering more often in the winter is antifreeze. Supposedly sweet-tasting (I’ve never tried it and don’t plan on it either), we sometimes can’t help ourselves from licking up a puddle of it. It’s super toxic stuff, so it’s critical that you immediately wipe up any spills/leaks of it and that you keep containers of it stored out of our reach and tightly sealed.
  4. There are a number of other outside environmental dangers that you should be aware of during the wintertime. If we’re out and about walking with you, it’s probably best to have us on a leash (with some kind of ID) just in case we run off and get disoriented from any snow or ice that blankets our once-familiar surroundings. And speaking of ice – pay particular attention to us wandering off and potentially walking on waterways that are covered by (unbeknownst to us) too-thin-ice. I can guarantee you that swimming in a river is NOT something we dogs want to do when it’s freezing outside! Ice can also cause some extra spills for our older – and possibly already arthritic – dog friends, so be aware of what you’re asking them to walk on. That goes for you humans as well. Treat yourself to a nice pair of Yaktraxs (or something like them) to make sure we don’t pull you off your feet and then run off ourselves. Back to us dogs though – snowmobile trails might seem like a good place for us to roam during our time outside, but we run the risk of being hit on them, so perhaps it’s best if we stay off them. And last but not least, if you happen to take us for a ride in the car during the winter, that too can be risky if you leave us unattended for too long. If the car is turned off, we can get super chilly and if the car is left running, carbon monoxide can actually become a dangerous factor.
  5. Once we head back indoors, the risks really aren’t over just yet. To be on the safe side, it would be a good idea to wipe us down thoroughly. Who knows, we might have ice stuck between our toes or chemicals saturating our feet. Plus, the drier we are, the quicker we’ll warm up.
  6. Other indoor wintertime risks include human heating devices that we dogs might not be use to encountering. Whether it’s a fireplace, a wood stove, a space heater, or something else, we might get a little too close and not even know it’s a problem until it’s too late. We could hurt ourselves or potentially even cause a fire. Either keep us out of the area, keep heaters up high, and/or screen us from getting too close – whatever it takes to keep us all safe and warm.
  7. Although not risk-related, some of us – especially older and/or ill dogs – might benefit from some extra wintertime indoor pampering. We’re talking about things like heated beds (or maybe just a really plush one near the heat) or perhaps a warm sweater. Nothing fancy – just a little boost to our comfort level.
  8. While I’d like to think that all of my canine chums are living the indoor life of luxury like I am, I do know that there are many dogs who live part – if not all – of their lives outdoors. If your dog is one of them, please, please, PLEASE read these last three tips that are related to outdoor dogs and do your best to make their life a little more tolerable during the winter and – potentially – a lot more comfortable. While many states actually have laws that regulate the “minimum requirements” that owners must provide their outside dogs, I hope you’ll go above and beyond those levels. For starters – shelter is the most critical, regardless if your dog is chained, penned, or running loose 24/7/365 or just for a few hours while you’re at work or running errands. While a porch overhang might suffice, providing a well-insulated, slightly-elevated, and properly-sized doghouse would be much better.   (Check out this insulated dog house and it comes in 3 sizes)Bigger isn’t necessarily better though as it’s harder to heat and more heat can be lost. Just make sure that your dog can stand, turn, and lay down comfortably inside the doghouse and provide them with some kind of bedding, whether straw or a clean blanket every day. Protection from the wind is also critical, especially with something along the lines of a door “flap” or a windbreaker tarp. Heat lamps and other electrical devices in a doghouse or kennel can actually be a danger, so be careful and consult a professional electrician if need be.
  9. Shelter obviously isn’t the only need an outdoor dog has during the winter. Fresh (and unfrozen) water is also extremely important. Simply eating snow will not keep your dog hydrated and warm. If your dog isn’t a chewer, think about investing in a heated bowl. They really are worth it and they don’t cost a fortune. Depending on your dog and the outdoor conditions they face, they might also need up to 30% more calories to sustain themselves. Feed them as much high quality food as necessary to help them not only survive the winter, but to maybe even thrive.
  10. Many people forget about how important grooming can be for an outdoor dog. The reality is that matted and tangled fur makes it harder for a dog to retain heat, as well as to protect itself from cold winds, blowing snow, etc. Brush them often and take some time to also trim excess fur from their feet to prevent ice and snow from “balling” up on them.

The bottom line is, if we start shaking, it’s definitely time to get us someplace warm. Hypothermia can kill us, just as quickly as it can kill you. As tough as we are – fur coats and all – we also have limits, so please bring your hardiest cold-weather dog(s) inside on those days when the winds howl louder than we ever could. There’s truly nothing better in ANY dog’s world than snuggling with our people on a chilly winter’s day.

About Nanook

Nanook is our resident Siberian Husky, who lives for adventures in the great outdoors. Although just past puppy-hood, Nanook refuses to admit he has to grow up. He has agreed however, to provide us with some insights as to what dogs really like and how to make them tail-wagging happy.