You may have noticed that it’s been cold outside. So has your dog. Although some types of dogs are more affected by cold than others, you can do a number of things to help keep Rover’s winter experience safe and happy.
1. Consider your dog. At my house, Cami, the Samoyed mutt is not phased by almost any level of cold. Samoyeds are very furry white sled-type dogs, so winter is no big deal to the wooly Cami hound. However, even though Tika, my golden retriever, could be considered fairly furry, goldens were not really bred to deal with extreme temperatures, and Tika is a cold wimp. Just because your dog has hair does not mean that she’s immune to cold. Older dogs and arthritic dogs are especially sensitive to the cold. Take your dog’s breed, health, age, and temperament into account when making decisions about time spent outdoors.
2. Provide shelter. If you keep your dog outside, be sure she has adequate shelter. A doghouse should be raised off the ground, dry, and free of drafts. If the house is heated, have the wiring done professionally. Extension cords and space heaters are not a good mix around canines. If you line the doghouse with straw, be sure to change the straw when it gets wet. Area vets see far too many dogs with horrible skin rashes and respiratory problems because the dogs were forced to sleep on wet, moldy straw.
3. Provide food and water. In the winter, your dog needs extra calories to stay warm. So feed him a larger ration of good quality food. If your dog is going to spend any significant time outside, you also must provide fresh water, which may entail buying a heater for the water dish, so it doesn’t freeze over.
4. Beware winter dangers. Animals can get frostbite just like humans. The ears, nose, and paws are particularly susceptible. Also watch out for any chemicals that may be on the road or sidewalks, such as deicers. When your dog licks his feet, he may ingest these chemicals and get sick. Most importantly, keep any automotive chemicals, especially antifreeze, away from all your pets. Antifreeze poisoning is common and almost always fatal.
The bottom line is use common sense. Cold can be dangerous. Always take the wind chill into account. Even if it’s 32 degrees outside, a stiff wind can drop the temperature 20 degrees or more. Pay attention to your dog. For years, I have done an unscientific "ear check" when I bring in my dogs to evaluate how cold they are. Now I have a good idea how long they can comfortably be outside at a given temperature. When the doggie ears are too cold, it’s time for the canine team to come inside and do some power sleeping on the nice warm carpet.