Column: Winter requires special care for dogs

Column: Winter requires special care for dogs

By James Murray, Observer contributor

I had pretty good chuckle a couple of weeks ago one morning when I let the dogs out for a run in the back yard.

It was the morning after our first snowfall of the season and I was as surprised as the dogs to see snow on the ground. One just bound out ready to have a good time. Another stopped dead in its tracks for a moment looking bewildered, as if it wasn’t quite sure what the white stuff was all about. The third tried to follow the other two, gingerly lifting each foot, trying not to touch the cold snow for too long. It didn’t take too long for them to be scratching at the door.

A lot of dogs do not take to the snow and cold weather well. They’re simply not equipped.

Warm weather or cold, dogs have to go out a couple of times a day for obvious reasons. The problem is when temperatures drop to well below freezing, even brief exposure to sub-zero temperatures can easily cause frostbite to a dog’s feet, nose or ears. Frost-bitten skin appears a reddish grey in the early stage and a whitish-grey in later stages.

If you suspect your dog has frostbite, take it inside or to a warm place and thaw out the frostbitten area slowly by applying warm, moist towels, and continue until the affected areas become flushed. Then contact a veterinarian for further attention and care.

Dog coats, sweaters and booties can help your dog stay warmer when outside in cold weather. Short-haired and elderly dogs in particular will benefit from wearing a coat or sweater that will insulate its trunk area and help maintain body temperature.

Puppies, sick and elderly dogs are more sensitive to cold weather and should only be taken out to relieve themselves or when absolutely necessary, and for only the shortest amount of time.

Do not let dogs run freely on their own outside the boundaries of their own yard during extremely cold weather. Dogs often lose their scent in cold weather and can easily become lost when outside a fenced yard.

Upon returning home from walking your dog, wipe snow and ice from the dog’s feet, legs and belly. Clipping the fur between a dog’s toe pads will reduce the amount of snow that collects between the toes.

You might even consider keeping a container of warm water and dry towels by the door for use after walks to rinse their paws before wiping them. Salt from the road can irritate a dog’s foot pads and can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea when licked – many de-icing and ice-melting products are even toxic to dogs.

Never leave antifreeze or coolant within a dog’s reach. Such products taste appealing to dogs but are lethal when ingested. When out for a walk, make sure to steer your dog away from any suspect puddles – do not let them drink from puddles which may contain any numbers of chemicals .

Whether out for a walk or playing, a strong, healthy dog will enjoy being outdoors as long as it is having fun, but remember, being outdoors in the cold also burns calories and, after awhile, will reduce body temperature.

If your dog is the type that does enjoy being outdoors during the winter months, make sure to give it plenty of Omega 3 or fish oil supplements so its fur stays thick and healthy. Never just leave your dog outside. Think about how you would feel if you were put outside in cold weather and left out there alone. Think how you would feel if you couldn’t get back inside when you wanted to.

Regular exercise is importance for a dog’s health and well-being. Dogs with high energy levels require more exercise than others, and without it they can become anxious or depressed. Make the time to take your dog for a walk, both in the morning and evening. It will be good for the both of you.

While I may have had a good laugh a couple of weeks ago over the dogs stepping out into the snow for the first time this season, the very thought of having to get up and open that door at 6:30 in the morning for the rest of the winter is not really something I’m looking forward to.

It is, however, something I’m afraid I’ll have to do.

Oh, well.