Just as we humans start to change our behaviour as the nights draw in and summer fades into winter, so we need to remember the way that we look after our dogs needs to change as well. Adverse weather can impact them to a considerable extent and while they still need to be exercised, we should also be mindful of the challenges that can come for them with different conditions underfoot, changes to their metabolisms, and the other issues that they can face throughout the winter months.
Understanding Cold Weather Effects on Dogs
Cold weather can certainly impact a dog’s health or wellbeing and it doesn’t have to be that cold before it has an effect. There’s no uniform answer to the question of which dogs are more or less vulnerable to cold weather, but broadly older and younger dogs–particularly puppies–are more so because they can’t regulate their temperatures as effectively, while smaller and shorter haired breeds are more susceptible to cold weather.
How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs?
Once the temperature falls below 7 degrees celsius (45 degrees fahrenheit) many breeds, sizes and age groups of dogs could start to feel a little uncomfortable, especially those with shorter or thinner fur.
Small, thin-coated, young, old and sick dogs should not be left outside for long below 0 degrees celsius (32 degrees fahrenheit). More vulnerable breeds include chihuahuas, dachshunds, corgis (dachshunds and corgis are particularly susceptible to the cold because their short legs leave them very close to the ground), greyhounds and many types of small terrier.
Preparing Your Dog for Winter
Of course, there are plenty of things that you can do to prepare your dog for the winter months. Your dog will still need exercise, regardless of what time of year it is, and there are things that you can do to ensure that they stay happy and healthy during the colder months of the year.
Winter Dog Gear and Essentials
For smaller dogs, lower temperatures, but we should as responsible dog owners be aiming a lot higher than that, shouldn’t we? Just like you or I, our dogs might need wrapping up during the winter months when taken out to protect them from the weather, and it’s essential for some sizes, breeds and age groups.
What Winter Clothing Does My Dog Need?
Dog coats are a necessity in colder weather for many breeds, and will help to keep all breeds warm and happy, while foot protection might be helpful if conditions underfoot are particularly treacherous.
There are almost as many different types of dog coat as there are breeds of dog, and they come in a variety of different styles.
But it’s not just a matter of what they wear on their backs while they’re out. Foot protectors come in an array of types, from those designed to protect injured paws to disposable ones. You might also want to consider a robe, for drying them off when they get home from their winter excursions, or a turtleneck jumper for walks on drier days.
What At Home Items Does My Dog Need for Winter?
Warm, comfortable blankets, towels for drying them and an appropriately sized bed are also essentials to help keep your dog warm during the winter. Paws can easily become dry, irritated, or even cracked from cold conditions, so invest in some paw balm to keep their feet comfortable.
Regarding dog beds, there are many different types as your budget allows, and you can even get electric blankets for them nowadays. There are also many different types of paw balm from which you can choose, in order to protect your dog’s paws from getting chapped.
Winter Outdoor Dog Safety Tips
The winter months bring challenges to dog owners, and sometimes these can be the things that it’s easy to overlook or forget.
Walks and Exercise
Dogs don’t stop needing their daily exercise just because the evenings are drawing in. By the middle of the winter it’ll be getting dark by the mid-afternoon, and if you’re walking your dog in the evening or at night you can get collars with lights in them. Ensure that your dog is microchipped, in case you become separated. They should also carry an ID tag on their collar or harness for the same reason.
Remember that it is simply never safe for dogs to walk on frozen ponds (not only can you never guarantee how sturdy ice on water is, but it’s also easy to get trapped under ice once you’ve fallen through it), and bear in mind that the well-known rule about never leaving a dog in a car in hot weather applies just as much in cold weather as well. No matter what the conditions, dogs should not be left alone in cars for extended periods of time.
Salt and De-icing Agents
It can be easy to forget that dogs spend most of their time walking barefoot, and that the measures that we take for our own safety can have unintended consequences for our dogs. Rock salt is often used in combination with sand or gravel to grit icy roads and pavements. Prolonged contact can cause serious damage to the soles of your dog’s feet, including burns, dryness, and cracking.
Rock salt is also poisonous if swallowed, so always wash their paws as soon as you get home to prevent them from licking it off themselves. If your dog’s paws do become chapped and sore, applying a small amount of canine-friendly paw balm can help alleviate the pain, promote healing and protect against grit.
Long-haired breeds often have fur around their paws which can become clogged with hard ice balls, causing pain and discomfort for your dog. They won’t cause long-term damage, but to ensure your dog’s comfort, regularly clip the fur around their paws to keep it in line with the sole of their foot. For protection as well as extra grip on snow or ice, dog boots are your best option. If your dog has particularly sensitive feet, opting for insulated, lightweight, and adjustable boots can keep them happy and exercised throughout the winter months.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
As conditions related to body temperature, hypothermia and frostbite can affect your dog just as easily as it could you. There are clear signs of hypothermia, in cold weather. If your dog is shivering, whimpering, slows down or stops, seems agitated or weak, get them inside quickly.
Wrap them in a warm blanket or coat. Place warm, towel-wrapped water bottles under their armpits and around the chest, and call the vets immediately. Don’t use hair dryers, electric blankets, or heating pads to warm a dog with hypothermia. DIY solutions are unlikely to be of much use and may cause them greater damage. Should you find yourself in this position, you need immediate professional help.
Severe winter weather, especially when windy, can also lead to frostbite. As mammals, both dogs and humans are required to maintain a minimum body temperature in order to keep our major internal organs functioning. When exposed to extreme temperatures, the body protects this core temperature by restricting blood vessels near the skin’s surface and diverting blood to the major organs instead. If this reduced blood flow reaches extremities such as the paws, ears, and tail, it can cause the tissue in them to freeze. This is frostbite.
The major visible symptoms of frostbite are skin that has significantly changed colour and which stays cold to the touch, blisters, swelling, and painful ears, tail, or paws. If you think your dog has frostbite, move them immediately to a warm, dry area and call the vets immediately.
Meanwhile, apply warm (not hot) water to the area for at least twenty minutes. Do not rub or massage the affected area. As with hypothermia, avoid hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets. Gently pat the area dry once it has been rewarmed with warm water. Again, it is critical that you get immediate professional assistance.
Winter Indoor Care for Your Dog
Caring for your dog during the winter doesn’t end when you get them home. If you have pets at home, you have a responsibility to ensure that your property is heated to a level that keeps them adequately warm, and that they have everything they need to get through those winter months.
Keeping Your Home Warm
As a rule of thumb, if you are comfortable with the temperature in your home, your pet likely is, too. As a benchmark, most dogs do very well with the home between 20 and 23 degrees celsius (68 to 73 degrees fahrenheit) during the winter months.
However, several variables could influence the right temperature for them. As with other factors relating to the conditions, size, age and health are all variables. You may want the temperature at home slightly higher if you have a small breed and slightly lower if you have a larger one. Don’t forget; you can always put on or take off a later or two, but that isn’t really an option for your dog!
Winter Diet and Hydration
As the nights draw in, it’s also important to adjust your dog’s diet to keep them healthy and happy during the winter months. From choosing the right type of food to adjusting portion sizes, there are several things you can do to ensure your dog gets everything they need.
It will greatly help them if you increase the amount of protein and fat in their diet, while occasionally giving them warmed food will help them feel cozy. Unlike cats, dog’s aren’t obligate carnivores, so adding seasonal vegetables to their food will give them extra vitamins and minerals.
Drinking water should always be on hand for your dog regardless of the time of year, but dogs experience less thirst in colder weather so it is important to keep an eye on them to ensure that they’re drinking as they should be. If you’re concerned, you could try adding low-sodium chicken or beef broth to their water bowl.
Dog Health Concerns in Winter
As well as hypothermia, frostbite, chapped or damaged paws and dehydration, there are also other conditions that can affect dogs during the winter months.
Common Winter Ailments for Dogs
Be aware that dogs are highly dependent on their sense of smell for orientation, and cold weather has a smothering effect on what your dog can smell. This can result in disorientation, so keep your dog on their leash when walking them during extremely cold weather. It is also important to bear in mind that their metabolism may change over the winter months and adjust the amount of food accordingly to compensate, in order to prevent excessive weight gain or loss.
It is important that you maintain your regular check-ups during the winter. If you have to attend an appointment during extremely cold weather, remember to prepare your dog accordingly, should you need to. Make sure they’re relaxed before heading out by playing with them, while a favourite toy may also keep them calm.
Many of the changes that you should make throughout the winter months are small ones, but cumulatively they can make a big difference to your dog’s health and happiness. With a little preparation, your dog can be just as happy on these long winter nights as they are during the summer months. All you need to do is be mindful of their needs and that they will always change throughout the course of any given year.