6 Important Winter Safety Tips for Dog Owners
Winter can be a grueling time for people. It's cold, it can be hard to get around, and slipping, and falling risks are increased. It's easy to think that dogs are impervious to the detrimental effects of cold weather because most of them have fur. The truth is that our canine friends can suffer from some of the same uncomfortable or dangerous cold weather conditions that we can.
Exposure to winter’s dry, cold air and chilly rain, sleet, and snow can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin, but these aren’t the only discomforts pets can suffer. Winter walks can become downright dangerous if chemicals from ice-melting agents are licked off of bare paws. Here are some cold weather consequences for dogs and the associated tips to help you increase your pet's enjoyment of the season.
Ingesting Toxic Substances
There are many food and non-food substances that can be toxic when eaten by dogs. It's important to be diligent all year about what your dog has access to that might harm her if she eats it. In the winter-time, there are a few extra substances around to be aware of. Make a habit of wiping down your dog's belly, feet, and legs when she comes inside during the winter. Doing this will remove the de-icer before it can irritate the skin or be ingested by your pet.
Salt is commonly used as a de-icer on roads and sidewalks in cold climates. Some dogs are drawn to licking it up. Dogs also ingest salt when they walk through it, then lick their feet, bellies, and legs to clean it off. Eating small amounts of de-icing products can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Eating larger amounts can cause your dog to develop an electrolyte imbalance, and this can lead to increased thirst, kidney damage, seizures, and death. Salt products are also very irritating to dogs' paw pads and skin. Your dog's feet and pads can become cracked, bleed, and even get infected if she walks on too much salt.
Take shorter walks with your dogs
Winter is a great time to get closer to your pets. They want to be inside with you where it’s warm. Short, frequent walks are preferable to extended walks during this time of year. After that, it should be right back inside to clean the snow and ice from between their toes. This isn’t to say that you should stop exercising your dog when it gets cold outside. The winter is the perfect time to enter your dog into daycare so that he can burn off excess energy in a safe and social place. Don’t forget about playtime at home either. Most dogs would love to chase a plush toy through the hallways.
Dogs can get frostbite, and it usually occurs on the toes, ears, and tail. If it is cold enough outside to be concerned about frostbite for yourself, be concerned about your dog as well. Limit your dog's time outdoors during frigid temperatures. A pair of doggie booties and a sweater can help but don't rely on them alone. If your dog has been outside during extremely cold temperatures, examine her skin for any areas that look pale. If you find any, contact your veterinarian immediately for help.
Keep your dog on a leash
Because dogs rely heavily on a strong sense of smell to figure out where they are, they can easily be lost during winter storms. Snow covering the ground will make their surroundings less familiar. Keeping your dog on a leash at all times – especially during winter storms – can help stop your dog from becoming lost. You may also ask your veterinarian about microchipping, just in case.
We don't recommend keeping any pet outside for long periods, but if you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground), and the bedding should be thick, dry, and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds. Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.
Hot water and food
Never use a metal water dish outside in cold weather because your dog’s tongue can get stuck! You can also consider purchasing a heated water dish so that your dog doesn’t have to drink frigid water or be challenged to get enough to drink from a frozen water source. Your dog will also need to eat more during the winter because it takes more energy to keep warm; however, don’t make the mistake of feeding too much. Obesity carries health concerns of its own.