When the temperature drops overnight, dogs don’t have the benefit of pulling something out of the closet to wear. While some parts of the country tend to enjoy mild winters, abrupt changes in the weather often leave pets shivering in shock.
Different dog breeds react to cold weather in different ways. Some German shepherds like rain and snow and turn everything into a doggy playground. But short-furred pups like Chihuahuas tend to be heat-seeking missiles eager to burrow into piles of fluffy blankets. A draft sends them scurrying for shelter. Cold weather may prompt fussy puppies to potty in the house because they don't want to get their nether regions chilly. Here's how to help your dog adapt to the cold and stay safe from potential winter hazards.
Avoid These Potential Dangers to Your Dog in Winter
Just like every season, winter provides unique dangers to your pup. Watch out for the following in cold weather months:
- Ice and Frozen Water: Thin ice is a real danger to dogs and puppies who might not realize where they're stepping. Prevent drowning and hypothermia by keeping your dog away from these areas. Even if the ice is thick enough, your dog could lose control on the slippery surface and tear a muscle or ligament.
- Antifreeze: Even a little antifreeze could be fatal to your dog. It's important to keep these containers locked away and mind any spills. It's also helpful to learn to recognize the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning in pets.
- Arthritis: If your dog is already experiencing symptoms of arthritis, these symptoms can become more apparent in cold weather. Help keep your dog as warm as possible (try heated bedding) and if your vet provided medication, be sure to give it to your dog as instructed.
- Carbon Monoxide: Be extremely careful of leaving your dog in a running car while you shovel snow in the winter. Check your tailpipe to make sure it's not blocked.
- Additional Safety Tip: If you have a cat–or even if you don't and there may be strays around–before you start your car, be sure to bang the hood or honk your horn to scare off any cats who could be sleeping on top of wheels or in the engine to keep warm.
Stimulate Fur Growth
Acclimate pups gradually to outdoor chills. That stimulates their fur to grow thicker and be more protective. Exclusively indoor pets won’t be as well equipped to spend time outside, so be aware and bring them back inside after only short trips to the bathroom and back.
To get pets used to spend more time outdoors, offer small tastes of cold weather in two to three-hour periods beginning in early Fall. Once the weather drops to the forties or below, a half hour to an hour supervised time outside both morning and evening can help prompt thicker fur growth.
Offer a Sweater
Puppies are less cold tolerant because they have less muscle and fat mass than adults. Muscle and fat increase their metabolism and keeps them warm. Puppy coats won’t be as thick or long to offer protection. Little pups have less body mass to generate natural heat, too, and often benefit from a doggy sweater especially when they must do outdoor bathroom duty. Teach your puppy or small dog to wear a sweater using the same tips found in this article to help puppies accept costumes.
Give your dog a whole outfit with a sweater and pair of boots! Seriously, though, your dog's paws are exposed to snow, ice, and salt in the winter, all which could damage his paws or pads. Look out for little snow or ice balls that may get caught in-between his toes or in the foot hair. Iced sidewalks can cause chapped paws as well, and should either be avoided with boots or you should be sure to wash off your pet's paws after a walk with a warm washcloth. If left unwashed, your dog may lick his dry paws, ingesting the salt, which can lead to gastrointestinal irritation.
Reduce Fly-Away Fur
Pets often develop dry skin, dull coats, and static-filled fur during the winter as a result of artificial heat from furnaces. Ask your veterinarian or pet products store about fatty acid supplements which help counteract the drying effects of winter weather.
Combing your pup can create even more static. Instead, you can use a wire hanger to “ground” the charge and get rid of the static. Carefully stroke your dog with the long (smooth) bottom edge of the metal hanger from his neck to tail, and on both sides. Avoid his face or other tender areas.
Adjust Feeding Schedules
Pets stay warm by burning fuel—the food they eat. They need more calories to generate increased body warmth, too, especially if they’re outside pets and can’t rely on your warm lap. Puppy food and “performance” diets offer more calories but you may also need to increase the ration especially if your pup spends much time outside. If he won't eat it all in the scheduled meals, increase the times he's fed.
Provide Outside Shelter
Getting wet, or sitting in the cold wind, allows body heat to be stripped away and predisposes pets to cold risks. When fur stays clean, untangled and dry, it traps a warm layer of air next to the pet’s skin that helps protect them from the cold.
Provide your outdoor pets with a doghouse or other shelter even during moderate temperatures. That way they have time to get used to sleeping inside and learn to take shelter there out of the wind and rain.
Avoid accommodations that are too large. Outdoor shelters should be only slightly larger than the curled-up pet so that the dog’s own body heat can fill up the space and keep him warm. It’s best to offer a puppy-size shelter rather than a jumbo dog house if your little guy hasn’t reached adult size.
If you already have an adult-size dog house, simply place a smaller shelter such as a puppy size dog crate—inside for him to use as his bed. Put a dry blanket or straw bedding inside for the pet to burrow and snuggle.
Staying in the garage helps keep the wind off their backs, but dogs still need a small cubbyhole to hide inside—even a cardboard box can help as long as it stays dry. Providing a light bulb overhead can offer some warmth. You can also find terrific pet warming beds or safe pet heating elements to situated under the dog’s bed, available from pet products stores.
When outdoor shelter or a garage isn’t available, pets should be inside whenever temperatures drop below about 40 degrees or the weather turns nasty. Take steps now to prepare for the chills of winter weather.