Baby It’s Cold Outside—Winterizing Tips for Dog Owners

The dew on the grass was white again this morning, so I guess I can’t call it dew anymore. A few weeks ago, Pat started wearing a headlamp on our walks before work. We walk faster now than we did in summertime. It’s crazy cold and if we didn’t hustle, our blood might literally freeze inside our veins. That’s the way it feels. The air comes off my tongue and out of my snoot like I’m taking long pulls on a cigarette, but dogs don’t smoke.

Sleepin’ outside is my fav’ on most summer nights, but I’ve been comin’ in at night since this cold front hit. Pat put the red flannel sheets on the bed yesterday and pulled out the heavy comforter. She doesn’t like me floppin’ on top of her bed, but I try to snuggle up next to her every night anyway and once in a while, I win. My bed under the window is nice, too but there are better places inside the house. Pat just got us a Christmas tree over the weekend, and last night I slept underneath it. The Christmas tree is the closest thing to summertime around—it gives me the smell of outside while I’m inside.

I love Pat for lots of reasons, but one of the best things about her is that she is warm. When she lets me, I love sleeping with Pat the best.

With the change of seasons and cold weather, there are a few things you humans need to be aware of about your wagger’s health that you might not know up front. Here are my top tips to keep your dog waggin’, even when its cold outside.

Brown Labrador Retriever, snow in her face.
Brown Labrador Retriever looking funny with snow all over her face. This girl needs a towel.
  • Fleas
    Don’t short shrift your flea treatments in winter! Fleas’ll kick the bucket when its freezing, so that means that they are attracted to ride out the cold weather in warm places, like animal dens, your dog’s cozy body and your home. According to PetMD, “…winter may actually be the perfect season for you to take on the [flea] fight…”
  • Arthritis
    Waggers with a crick in their step may slow down in winter because their joints become more stiff and painful with the cold. Even with arthritis, exercise rocks it toward the top of the chart when it comes to keepin’ your dog waggin’. Exercise is doubly important for waggers with arthritis because it helps to loosen stiff joints. When it comes to walks, The Pet Health network says that “activity helps the joints combat stiffness—which in turn reduces pain.” If its tough to get going, try shorter stints and start out slow. You can break up your walks—do a couple short walks a day instead of a big long one. Talk to your vet about medication if your dog’s arthritis is getting in the way of exercise or if he seems like he’s in too much pain.
  • Tender paws
    Sometimes paws can be cracked and dry in the cold weather and if you live in snow country, ice balls can build up between the pads and be painful for your wagger. For cracked paws you can use salve to sooth and protect. There are several commercial remedies such as Bag Balm for Dogs which can also be used for noses and nipples, too. Another option is to cook up a salve from a DIY recipe. Check out the DIY Paw Wax recipe from The Bark Magazine. If salve doesn’t work or if your winters are particularly “ruff,” take a lesson from some of the world’s best athletes, the dogs of the Iditarod, and have your wagger wear booties. While most dogs probably don’t need booties, they can be awesome protection for older pets or to protect against painful ice balls, or when there is severe terrain or wounds in the paws.
  • Frozen water dish
    Make sure your wagger has enough available fresh water and if he drinks outside, make sure the water doesn’t freeze in his dish. You can buy a heated bowl if this is a concern otherwise, rethink an outdoor dish and have your dog drink inside instead.
  • Common winter illnesses
    Winter can bring a heavy load of sickness for dogs (just like humans). Hypothermia, frostbite, colds, flu, pneumonia, and kennel cough are all more prevalent in the winter. If your wagger has any sneezing, coughing or wheezing, difficulty breathing, watery eyes, shivering, weakness, lethargy or any strange symptoms, consult with a vet and nip it in the bud. When it comes to protecting your dog from hypothermia, get ’em dry and warm quickly when they are wet from horsin’ around in the snow. If your dog does end up comin’ down with the seasonal crud or any other cold-weather illness, you can potentially save the cost of a vet visit by texting the word VET to 67076 first. You will text live with an Ask.Vet veterinarian about your concerns and what you should do about them, which may or may not include a visit to your local clinic.
  • Antifreeze
    We waggers can be attracted to antifreeze because it tastes sweet, but it is toxic and can kill us. We can lap it up under a car that has leaked some of it. We can also get it from cars that have dripped it along the roadside. The active ingredient in the green liquid is ethylene glycol and according to the Pet Poison Helpline, “as little as a tablespoon can result in severe acute kidney failure in dogs, while as little as one teaspoon can be fatal to cats.” If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, immediately call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 for advice and get your wagger into a vet fast.
  • Shelter preparation
    I strongly advocate letting your pupper inside when it’s cold, but if your dog must stay outside, then make sure you properly winterize his shelter. Locate the shelter in a place where the land drains well and in a direction that is protected from the wind. A flap door will help keep the wind out. Insulate the dog shelter—some dog shelters come insulated but you can also provide added insulation using Styrofoam sheets, if needed. Check out Dogsaholic.com—They give DIY instructions on Styrofoam insulation and other great tips on winterizing your dog’s outdoor shelter. Heat lamps and other heating options for dog houses will help your wagger cozy up and keep warm and as already mentioned, don’t forget the heated water bowl. Make sure that you keep wires away, so they don’t get chewed and monitor any electrical heating arrangement to ensure your dog doesn’t get burned either. Timers for heaters are also available to make this a bit easier. Use straw over a blanket for the bedding—wet blankets can freeze and be a problem and straw provides good insulation against the cold.

Winter can be a lot of fun. I love running through the white stuff and when the sun is shining and Pat comes out to play with me, it’s awesome! The best thing you humans can do for your waggers during the season is to be mindful of how it affects us and prepare and respond appropriately, if there is an issue. Above all, know that when it is too cold for you, it’s too cold for us, too. If that’s the case, it’s time to go inside.

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