By Diane Levitan, VMD, veterinarian, and member of the Wag! Advisory Board
Cool, crisp autumn days can sometimes energize your dog. The cooler weather goes well with built-in fur coats, allowing many breeds and mixes to walk, run and play for long periods of time without heating up and tiring out.
As temperatures plummet, though, pet parents need to keep in mind how frigid weather — particularly for long periods of time — can be too much for even the hardiest of breeds.
A simple rule of thumb about whether your dog is cold is whether you feel cold. If you do, your dog likely does, too. Once thermometers drop and ice and snow become part of the daily forecast, be careful and consider these tips:
Paws in the snow and ice and can get cold very fast. Even though there are some thick-coated alpine dogs out there who love the snow, as household pets, they're probably not conditioned for the cold weather.
Small dogs should wear coats or sweaters outside to keep them warm. Not only are the clothes adorable, but they’re also beneficial, especially for small, short coated dogs.
Booties are a good idea if you are going to be walking your pets on the sidewalks or where there’s ice or snow.
Use only pet-safe ice melters for defrosting your sidewalks and patios. Many common de-icers contain many different kinds of salts that are harmful to your pet if licked off their feet or coats. If you are walking your pet on public streets, you should consider putting protective booties on them.
If your pet does not wear booties when walked, be sure to clean off their feet and dry them well after walks to prevent ingestion of toxins.
Be sure to clean ice, snow, salt, and sand from your dog’s feet and legs. Also, dry your dog's belly if it gets covered in snow.
Even if your dog seems to enjoy the cold weather and snow play, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. How much is too much? That depends. Different pets have different thresholds. Ultimately, it’s a judgment call — yours.
The best way to know how long in the cold is enough for your dog is for you also to be outside. When it gets too cold for you to tolerate, the same will likely be for them. When the temperature drops below freezing, limit your dog’s time outside to less than 15 minutes at a time.
It’s important to remember, too, that much like vehicles can heat up to extreme temperatures in the summer, they can also get extremely cold in the winter. Be careful when taking your dog on errands. You don’t want to leave them in the car for extended periods of time. Once the vehicle is turned off, the icy temperatures outside can quickly cool off the car’s interior, making it uncomfortable and even unsafe for your dog.
Just like humans, dogs can slip and fall on ice and snow. As a result, veterinarians see many torn ligaments in the winter. The knees are commonly affected, and often the treatment requires surgery. It's best to keep your pet on a leash outside and avoid buildups of ice where they — and you! — can slip.
If your dog is arthritic, keep in mind that it may be more difficult for him to move around in the winter. Be sure to make it easy for him to walk outside. Having to jump through the snow or walk on slippery, icy surfaces can lead to unnecessary pain and possible injury. If your dog is having a hard time, speak to your veterinarian about pain medications.
Whether you live in or travel to a cold-weather spot this winter, there’s no doubt outdoor playtime can be a joyful time for you and your dog. Just keep in mind the risks involved when you expose your four-legged family member to ice, snow, and cold. Even though they come with fur coats as standard equipment, that doesn’t mean they’re fully protected from all that Old Man Winter can deliver. Have fun — and stay warm!
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