Monday, January 4, 2010 11:00 AM

Protecting Your Pet from Old Man Winter: Dogs

Winter came in like a lion this year, before many of us were ready. Cold air, wind, snow and sleet are all manageable for us, as long as we take precautions. Similarly, our pets need protection from severe weather in order to make it to spring unscathed. Now is a good time to discuss how we can help keep our animals safe from the ravages of winter weather.

Dogs generally spend more time outdoors than cats, though probably less now than when I was a kid. Back then, it seemed like everyone's dog stayed outside, at least most of the time. Of course, kids stayed outside more in those days, and kids and dogs go together, as we all know. At any rate, many dogs, even large breeds, seem to spend more time indoors with the human family. This can actually make the cold weather tougher on these animals, since the rule has always been that an outdoor dog should stay outdoors and an indoor dog should primarily be a house dog. Unlike cats, dogs can't seem to acclimate themselves to constant movement between indoor and outdoor temperatures.

If your dog spends quite a bit of time outside, it's a must to have a kennel or dog house so that he can get out of the cold and off of the ice and snow. Foot pads, noses and ears can all get frostbitten, and hypothermia can occur, especially if the animal gets wet. Provide a dog house that is big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in, and provide a wool blanket for him to lie on (wool wicks moisture away from the body). Attach rubber flaps on the opening so that he can enter and exit easily, but keeps the cold wind out.

Since dogs need exercise even on cold days, another hazard for them is road salt and sidewalk de-icers. There are many pet-friendly brands sold in pet stores, but the salt used on roadways can damage your dog's foot pads if it stays in contact with his feet for too long. Wipe his paws after each walk with a warm, moist towel to remove any residue. He should get used to this easily, since most dogs love the extra attention!

A problem with larger breeds, hip dysplasia, can be more noticeable in winter due to the slippery conditions. We can wear those neat grippers on our shoes, but our dogs cannot. Splaying of the rear legs can exacerbate this condition and cause tendon and muscle soreness. Whenever possible, try to keep Rover on cleared surfaces, particularly when he is doing his "business" (squatting can cause slipping). This happened recently with Miss P.'s dog, Mr. D., and he's a hurting pup right now. Using a harness rather than a collar leash may help, as you will be able provide some additional support at those critical moments.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at some ways to protect your cat from the ice and cold.
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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