Keeping your pets warm in all this cold weather!

Our pets need to be sheltered from winter's nasty weather as much as we do.

Unless you have a northern dog, such as a Husky or Saint Bernard, most dogs cannot spend a lot of time outdoors comfortably. However, winter can be a fun time for both you and your dog as long as you take precautions.


Here are some tips to get you and your pup through the summer months. 

  • Take your dog to the veterinarian to make sure they don't have any medical problems that will make them more vulnerable to the cold.
  • Limit the time your dog gets to stay outside when it gets especially cold. A good rule of thumb is to go out with them and when you're ready to come in, they should be too. If they must stay outdoors for a significant length of time, be sure to provide them with a warm, insulated shelter with plenty of thick bedding, and make sure their water cannot freeze. For extra warmth, a hot water bottle--wrapped in a towel so it won't burn your dog's skin--can be placed in their bed.
  • Watch your dog carefully when you go for a walk or if they are in your garage. Some dogs are very attracted to the taste of antifreeze, which is toxic and could kill them.
  • If you live near an open body of water, be very cautious about letting your rambunctious dog off the leash. Although it may seem to be solidly frozen, your dog could slip through a hole or step on a thin spot and not be able to get back out. Make sure you keep your dog near you at all times.
  • Dogs can get rock salt, ice, and chemical ice treatments caught in their footpads. To minimize damage to her paws, wipe them with a warm cloth when she comes inside. This will also keep her from licking the salt off her feet, which could cause an inflammation of her digestive tract.
  • Cold dogs can be very resourceful in their search for warm shelter. They will burrow into snow banks, hide under porches or in window wells, climb into a dumpster or get into an unsecured cellar and be trapped. Observe them closely while they are loose outside and if you must leave them out, provide them with quality, easily accessible shelter.
  • If you want to put a coat or sweater on your dog and they will wear it, go for it. It may help a little, but remember that dogs lose most of their body heat from the pads of their feet, their ears, and their respiratory tract. The best way to protect your dog from winter weather damage is to watch them closely and make sure they are comfortable.

The dangers of cold weather

There are two serious health conditions caused by cold weather. The first and less common is frostbite that begins when the dog's body gets cold. The body automatically pulls all the blood from the extremities to the center of the body to stay warm. The dog's ears, paws, or tail can get so cold that ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage it. The tricky thing to remember about frostbite is that it's not immediately obvious. The tissue doesn't show signs of damage for several days.

If you suspect your dog has frostbite, bring her into a warm environment right away. You can soak her extremities in warm water for about 20 minutes to melt the ice crystals and restore circulation. It's very important that you don't rub the frostbitten tissue, however--the ice crystals can do a lot of damage to the tissue. When your dog warms up, wrap her in blankets and take her to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can assess the damage and treat your dog for pain or infection if necessary.

A second winter weather concern is hypothermia. This occurs when a dog spends too much time in the cold, or when dogs with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold. In mild cases, dogs will shiver and show signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As the condition worsens, her muscles will stiffen, her heart and breathing rates slow down, and she will not respond to stimuli.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to get your dog warm. Wrap her in blankets, and take her to your veterinarian who can monitor her heart rate and blood pressure and give warm fluids through an IV if necessary.

Winter is a beautiful time of year. It can be a dangerous time as well, it doesn't have to be. With a few sensible precautions, you and your dog can have a wonderful time enjoying the icicles, the snow banks, and the warm, glowing fire at the end of the day.

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