Keeping Your Cool in the Cold

Wintertime can be lots of fun for dogs, and doesn’t need to mean that your pooch is confined indoors. However, there are certain considerations that you need to prepare for if you’re going to be romping with Rover in the snow. Also, see Note #2 at the end of the article if you’re a reasonable human who likes modern amenities like heaters and mini marshmallows and just want to skip the outdoors altogether (but, still read the article, it’s good).

First, think about paws; we take for granted that dogs’ pads protect them from all sorts of evils, but in facts they are just heavy calluses that provide little protection from extreme temperatures. In winter, snow and ice can get packed between a dog’s pads and form a solid, freezing mass that is highly uncomfortable and can damage the dog’s foot. So, whether you’re going for a hike through snowy fields or braving the slushy streets, frequently check your pooch’s pads to clear them of snow and ice. Also consider using booties if you are outdoors for prolonged amounts of time, or if the conditions are especially extreme.

Second, don’t be afraid of clothing. I can no longer count the number of times I’ve heard, “dogs are born with coats, why would they need more?” This is an unfortunate sentiment. Some dogs, certainly, are naturally equipped with the heat-regulating coats that keep them warm in low temperatures; Huskies and other snow dogs, specifically. But most dogs do not, in fact, have “built in” weatherization; my little 12-pounder, Bill, has a thin layer of soft Schnauzer fur over his hide-covering Italian Greyhound stripes. My neighbor’s pitbull has a shiny coating of ¼-inch long hair, and his belly is practically bald. I could go on. Furthermore, when a dog’s coat gets wet, it loses its ability to hold heat next to the skin.

So, please use that incredible human invention, the coat. These can range in type and price from thin knitted sweaters costing $15 to snow- and wind-proof goose down puffers that weigh in at a whopping $100. Each dog and weather condition requires a different level of protection; for Bill, I have invested in water-proof, insulated chest-covering coats that I often layer with a thinner fleece layer underneath. For My Jack Russell Fiske, on the other hand, who never stops moving and is seven years younger than his brother, I generally get away with just the light fleece. In the end, you make the call, but don’t skip the sweater just because you don’t want to be judged. It’s your dog’s well being; would you want to be out in 35-degree weather without a coat?

Finally, don’t push it. Signs of cold are generally pretty obvious and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Remember that your dog is at your mercy; if she’s shaking with cold, she doesn’t want to be out in it anymore. At the first signs of shaking and slow, shallow breathing, it’s time for your pup to get warm. If you’re seeing weakness, muscle stiffness, labored breathing, and a blank stare or mental dullness, it’s time to call the vet and check in, just to be safe.

Note: many of the precautions we take to prevent slippery conditions can be harmful to dogs. Thoroughly wipe down your pup’s feet, legs, and belly after outdoor excursions to remove any salt or antifreeze. Be particularly careful with the latter, as it is highly poisonous.

Note #2: All this being said, consider increasing indoor enrichment activities and reducing outdoor exposure if the temperature is dropping below freezing. Don’t lie; you don’t want to be out their either. So set up an agility course, toss a ball up a flight of stairs, design a fun food puzzle, or build a living-room-sized Game of Thrones-level fort/maze/obstacle course; it’s your call how fancy you get, but there’s plenty to do indoors.

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