BRRR! It’s Cold Out There: Winter Tips For Your Dog

Just like people, pets can find winter weather both invigorating and challenging at different times.  Watching a dog frolick in fresh powdery snow is a heartwarming sight that reminds all of us how much fun winter can be.  Unfortunately, the cold and snow of winter can be responsible for a variety of problems that occur in our pets.

Many pet owners ask me for advice when considering winter hazards and maladies. It is important to use common sense when you are out outdoors with your pet.  Pets get cold just like we do and the temperature, wind and precipitation all factor into their comfort.  Your dog should be healthy to spend time in harsh weather and you should have your dog checked by a veterinarian if you have any health questions.

Do dogs need coats in the winter?  It seems that pet boutiques selling outerwear are opening all over the country.  Sweaters made of all materials and shapes are the raging fashion in some cities.  Although some owners want their dogs to be as fashionable as they are, most dogs do not need coats.  Many dogs have been bred to work in the winter and their long coats and foot pads prevent injury.  Some of these heavy coated breeds thrive in the winter and seem to be less active during hot summer days.   Can you imagine an Alaskan sled dog wearing a coat and boots?  I don’t think that they would be able to pull their sleds too far with that kind of dress.

Walking in the streets of Manhattan I have seen many small dogs wearing coats in 40 degree F weather.  I can say with certainty that the coats are not comfortable for these dogs.  I would only consider a coat necessary in short coated breeds on the coldest and windiest day.  If you go outside with your Greyhound or Whippet and you find the cold biting, a coat would be appropriate. But any healthy long coated breed doesn’t need one.

To help you decide if a coat is necessary watch the reaction of your dog when he goes outside on a cold day.  If he is walking with you and seems happy, then he doesn’t need a coat.  If your dog goes outside and starts to shiver and refuses to walk, try a coat and see if he is more comfortable outside.

Snow presents another challenge.  Ice can get trapped between the toes of dogs and cause discomfort.  Also snow melting salt can cause irritation between the toes.   After a walk in the snow it’s always a good idea to check the feet of your dogs. If ice is present gently remove it.  If your dog has walked through melted ice, dry their feet and rinse them off with warm water.

Dogs can slip on the ice and injure themselves.  I see more torn ligaments, lacerations, and even toenails ripped off during snowstorms.   It’s a good idea to keep your dog close to you and on a leash in the snow.  If you live in a wide open section of the country away from traffic your dog would love running in a field, but make sure that  he is well trained and will come back to you when called.  Dogs can get lost and run away if not trained properly and it can be very difficult to track a runaway dog in the snow.

Before long spring will be upon us, but until then winter can be a great time to have fun and bond with your dog.  Remember to use common sense and good judgment and you and your pet will enjoy fun times in the cold weather.