While some parts of the country are knee deep in snow, half of the states are experiencing an unseasonably warm winter. While global warming may play a part in these extreme temperatures, shifts in weather are felt more acutely by our pets who can take longer to acclimate to outdoor changes.
Cold Tolerance for Different Breeds
Some Northern breeds, like the Akita, Husky, Alaskan Malamute, and Keeshond are built to withstand the arctic chill; their dense coats and furry feet act as insulation and help navigate icy terrain. Others, like the Chihuahua, poodle, and dachshund have thin coats and less muscle mass. Their anatomy also keeps them closer to the ground where they come into direct contact with ice, snow, and de-icing salt. These breeds are especially sensitive to exposure and if their human owners are feeling chilled, you can bet they are too.
Tips for Dog Safety in Cold Weather
While we can turn up the heat, throw on some extra layers, and break out our waterproof boots, our dogs need our help to keep safe in cold weather.
Add Extra Layers
One way to ensure our canine friends maintain a normal 101.5-degree Fahrenheit body temperature is to add an extra layer of fluff, or insulation. Thin-skinned, delicate breeds such as the Italian Greyhound can use a coat or sweater that protects the belly and torso. Excessive hair between a dog’s toes can be trimmed to avoid slipping on surfaces and to limit the snowballs that form in between the toes. A well-groomed pooch can also be outfitted with booties for insulation and to provide traction on slippery surfaces. Most dog booties are elastic or have Velcro fasteners and can be laundered. Wiping down bellies and feet after coming in from the outdoors goes a long way in maintaining optimal health.
Limit Outdoor Playtime
Acclimating our dogs to the colder temperatures is best done by limiting outdoor playtime to 5-10 minutes and extending that period gradually.
Signs a dog is too cold:
- Heat-seeking behavior
As their internal temperature drops and they become hypothermic, it’s possible for a decreased heart rate, coma, and even death to ensue. Dogs are more susceptible to frostbite on delicate skin such as the ear tips and tail. The most noticeable change in affected areas is a color change from pink to white or blue-grey.
Extra Care for Young/Senior Pets
Caring for senior or young pets when the weather is cold may mean keeping them indoors or providing a warm, cozy shelter. These dogs are less able to regulate body temperature, may be lower to the ground and have belly exposure to the snow, or have compromised immune systems and feel physiologically stressed.
Temperature Safety Rules
As a rule, most dogs are comfortable at temperatures above 45 degrees and don’t likely need a coat. Below 32 degrees, most dogs will be feeling an uncomfortable chill and as the thermometer dips under 20 degrees (consider wind too), cover your pet when outside unless they happen to be one of our Arctic breeds. A good rule when it comes to dog winter safety is if you are uncomfortable outdoors, so is your pet!
Maintain a Healthy Nutrition
Lastly, nutrition and hydration should be carefully considered when the weather is cold. Keeping your home’s humidity level high can help pets feel warmer and decrease the risk of cracked pads and dry skin. Dehydration is a concern in wintertime just as it is in the summer. Some dogs may drink more water to offset the lack of humidity in the air. Provide ample fresh water, ice cubes to snack on, and heated water bowls if necessary.
If your dog is active in the snow or spends time outdoors, they utilize more calories to maintain their body temperature. To care for your dog in the winter, you might find additional kibble is necessary to maintain body weight and optimal health.
Paw Balm Recipe
Paw Balm works as a preventive treatment or to help soften dry paw pads or noses during the winter.
What You Need:
- 21-24 standard lip balm tubes OR 6 1-oz. tins
- A small digital kitchen scale, optional
- Small pot or double boiler
- 2 oz. (approx. 2 tbsp.) olive, sunflower, or sweet almond oil
- 2 oz. (approx. 2 tbsp.) coconut oil (buy on amazon)
- 1 oz. (approx. 1 tbsp.) shea butter (buy on amazon)
- 4 tsp. beeswax (buy on amazon)
- In a small pot or double boiler over low heat melt the oils, shea butter, and beeswax. Stir continuously until all is melted and well blended.
- Carefully pour the mixture into lip balm tubes and/or tins. (buy on amazon)
- Let them cool on the counter until hard.
- Cap and label.
- Keep away from extreme heat.
- Apply the balm as a preventive treatment or to help soften dry paw pads or noses. Use within 1-2 years.