Emily Hoppmann, DVM
The weather is getting colder and so there are certain things that you need to keep in mind concerning your dogs based on the change of seasons. It is definitely ideal to keep your pets inside to keep them as safe and comfortable as possible. However, there are things to consider when your dog is outside during this cold weather. Not only are there concerns strictly based on the temperature, but also dangers associated with actions humans take to combat winter weather. We want to be sure that our pets are as protected as possible from the cold temperatures and also from the more hidden dangers of winter.
No pet should be left outside when it is below freezing, but especially not smaller and/or short-coated pets. The cold affects smaller animals and animals with shorter coats more because they have a harder time maintaining their body temperature. When they do need to go outside, it is best to provide them with some extra warmth through dressing them in clothes. Just keep in mind that you need to be sure the clothes fit properly, are comfortable, and do not have any pieces that can be easily chewed off. You also want to ensure that your pet’s vision, hearing, breathing, movement, and ability to open his/her mouth are not affected. It is best to not leave your pet unattended while wearing these clothes. If your dog has longer hair to help keep him/her warm, you want to keep the coat brushed out and clean during the winter to avoid matting, but not shaved totally down.
If your pet is going to be left outside, there are a few modifications that need to be made to ensure his/her safety. The biggest resource that you need to provide for your pet is shelter. A sturdy doghouse with a blanket or tarp added to cover the entrance to block the wind is a good start. You also want to provide plenty of blankets (fleece blankets work great) inside the house that your pet can burrow in. It is best to have a house big enough that you can put the water bowl inside to avoid it getting too cold where your pet will not want to drink it or freezing where your pet will be unable to drink it. Again, ideally no dog should be left outside below freezing.
Colder temperatures can also affect some medical conditions – especially in older animals. Just like humans, arthritis tends to be more painful in the winter. If you notice your pet having trouble getting up from a laying or seated position, having trouble with inclines, or just slowing down in general it is important to have your veterinarian do an examination and see if medications are needed to help manage to discomfort of joint disease. The air tends to be drier outside during the winter and the heat in our homes is also drier than the air condition in the summer. This dry air can result in your pet having more dry, flakey, and itchy skin. This is also something that you can consult your veterinarian about and so you can take the necessary steps to help keep your pet’s skin more hydrated from the inside out! Parasites are a problem year-round for our pets and it is important to remember that it does not get cold enough to kill ticks, fleas, or mosquitoes (that can infect your pet with heartworms). This means that it is imperative to keep your pet on parasite prevention year-round.
In the winter there are also some hidden dangers people often do not think about that can have serious, if not fatal, consequences. For example, people are more likely to have anti-freeze for their vehicles around and this sweet tasting liquid is fatal to pets (even in very small portions). Be sure to keep your anti-freeze in a place your pets cannot get to and to be sure your vehicles are not leaking anti-freeze onto the ground. If you do have a leak or spill, it is best to cover it with cat litter to absorb as much as possible and then scoop the litter and soil into a bag to be disposed of. If it is on a solid surface, you want to scoop the litter and then spray off the area with hot water and Dawn dish soap. If it does happen to snow or there is a good bit of ice and salt is put down as a result this can negatively affect your pet if they ingest it or walk on it. You should be sure your pet does not come into contact with the salt and wears booties when going for a walk where salt has been put down. One last thing to remember is that it is typically darker in the winter when you go for walks, so it is important to have reflective collars and lights on your pet and that you carry a flash light and also have a reflective jacket, vest, etc. on so that cars can see you and your pet more easily.
Winter is upon us and these colder temperatures are going to be around for a while, so please keep these things in mind to make it a safe and healthy season for your pets!