In North America, at least, it’s time to winterize our pets. You’re already doing that, right? So this is just a reminder.
These days, most of our dogs (and cats) live indoors with us, but at least the dogs have to get out and about daily (don’t get me started on free-roaming cats). While all seasons have their challenges for our dogs, winter can be the most unpredictable, as they can face wind, rain, snow, ice, and blinding sun.
Your first rule, if it’s miserable out for you, it’s probably worse for your pets. Even in a mild climate, consider these things:
That includes sweaters and jackets for dogs, from raingear to snow gear. I have several raincoats for my Cavalier King Charles spaniel (inherited from my previous dogs), but he also has a fleece sweater that he can wear under a raincoat or even indoors (from Gold Paw Series). Most stores have a good selection, and there are plenty of great pet clothing websites out there.
If you get snow and ice in your area, consider foot gear for your dogs. They protect from ice and salt (but can be hard for dogs to adjust to). Try a personal fitting if you can, but plenty of websites offer great guidelines and selections, like Chewy.com (a personal favorite because they refunded a case of expensive dog food the day my dog died in 2014, asking only that I donate the food to a needy organization, which I did).
Dogs’ paws can be easily damaged by ice and salt. Snow can freeze between their pads and salt can burn them (and road salt is toxic, so no licking!). Your best bet is to carefully wash your dogs’ paws every time you come in, no exceptions! Avoid chemical de-icers in spaces you control, and remember that other people don’t. Sites like Chewy.com also offer moisturizing creams for dog pads and noses, but you can also try that old standby, Bag Balm.
Also, monitor noses and other body parts that are directly exposed: frostbite can be a real concern, so limit outdoor activities in low temperatures, especially if it’s windy, which can quickly drop body temperature. Then, too, the sun on the snow can be blinding for us, which is why we all have sunglasses. Your dog probably doesn’t so it’s important to watch for squinting and avoiding behaviors that call for shade. A good rule: 15 minutes at maximum in cold weather, and as little as possible in extreme weather. Consider creating a potty area in a garage or other space that is not exposed. Keep towels and clean-up materials by the door so your dog doesn’t track the mess inside.
Many people reduce their dogs’ food intake in winter, assuming they get less exercise. While this may be true for you, consider your dog needs the calories for warmth (and, like us, they get hungry, so feed them already!). In extreme conditions, consider indoor play groups at doggy day care centers, or at least find a space for them to romp inside. Downward dog isn’t just a yoga pose!
Living with animals is a full-time job. Winter weather can be hazardous, but enjoy it! Sure, your dog may acquire clumps of snow on its body or pads, and faces exposure issues, so pay attention, act promptly, and establish a routine for winter weather. You’ll avoid potential veterinary bills and your dog will appreciate you even more!