The MD/DC/VA area experiences all manner of conditions from extreme low temperatures to heavy snows during the winter. New and different hazards present themselves for pet owners on a daily basis but that doesn’t mean that you and your dog can’t enjoy the season. By taking a few precautions and preparing ahead of time you can keep your pup happy and safe through to spring time. Check out our winter pet care tips below!
Dealing with cold temperatures:
-Even with a naturally furry coat, cold temperatures can affect your pet’s health. Hypothermia and frostbite can occur with even minimal exposure to the outdoors so keep outings as short as possible. Look for shivering, shallow breathing, and a weak pulse (hypothermia) or discolored skin, swelling, or blisters (frostbite), and contact your vet immediately if your dog should become ill.
-For small or short-coated dogs a coat or waterproof sweater can be beneficial, and boots can be protective for all dogs. For those pets that struggle with or do not appreciate footwear, foot balms such as Musher’s Secret or Bag Balm can be applied to ‘winter proof’ feet before walks.
-Playtime and exercise can occur indoors, and a daily round of tug-o-war, fetch, or keep away will keep your pet active. Where time constraints exist due to work, travel, etc. mentally stimulating toys such as a Kong stuffed with treats or bully sticks can stave off boredom.
-Everyone likes a warm, dry bed in winter and dogs are no exception! Beds with high sides that are raised off the floor are best, and blankets, cushions, pillows, and old clothing make great insulation. Clean or wash bedding regularly to reduce germs, dirt, and overall mess.
-Most of us keep antifreeze and other cold weather chemicals around our homes through the season. Keep these well out of reach of pets and clean up any spills immediately to prevent ingestion. Even miniscule amounts can cause kidney failure and death in dogs.
-Salt and other products designed to melt ice can irritate skin and paws, and also cause problems if ingested. Wash paws and any fur that becomes coated with warm water and dry thoroughly with a clean towel.
-Check your dog’s nails on a weekly basis and trim often. More indoor time on soft surfaces will prevent regular wearing down and your pet’s nails will grow longer than during the warmer months. Shorter nails will also prevent mud balls, ice chunks, and other detritus from building up between otherwise splayed toes.
-Bathing is still possible in winter but take care to make sure your pup is completely dry before going outside. Blow drying will help expedite the drying process if your dog is comfortable with the process. Dry shampoo can also be used between baths to keep coats clean for longer.
-Different sources say varying things about cutting your dog’s fur during the winter but it ultimately comes down to what you, the owner, are able and willing to put into grooming your pet’s coat. Longer fur or hair will need regular if not daily brushing, especially for breeds that mat or tangle easily, though will keep your pet naturally warm. A short coat is fine if your dog is primarily indoors and a jacket or sweater will make up the difference outdoors.
-Foot balms can be used not only to prevent chapping and cracking while outdoors but also to soothe and moisturize your dog’s feet all winter long. As mentioned above Musher’s Secret, Bag Balm, and similar products are available specifically for your pets, but drug store petroleum jelly also works well.
Eating and drinking:
-A lot of energy is burned off staying warm so feed your pet a little bit more to help make up for those lost calories. How much more food varies by size, age, individual energy, and activity levels though a good rule of thumb is around 10% more than the usual amount. Always keep an eye on your pet’s weight however and avoid adding richer foods into the usual mix.
-Water intake is just as important in winter as in warmer months in part due to dryer climate conditions. Always keep fresh water available for your pet to drink as needed and especially during meal times. Snow and ice are not a substitute for water, and can be dangerous in high traffic areas where salt and other chemicals are used to treat roads and sidewalks.