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Keep Your Dog Warm This Winter

By Susan McCullough for The Dog Daily

Upstate New York is not known for having mild winters. Most years, the period from
November through March brings several feet of snow to the area, and temperatures can
drop below zero. Such conditions don’t bother Vernon, N.Y. veterinarian Deb Eldredge and
her canine companions though. “My dogs do fine running outside for short periods of time
even when it’s below zero,” says Dr. Eldredge. “And they love to go cross-country skiing
with me.”

But even winter-loving dogs need extra protection from the elements. Here’s what Dr.
Eldredge and other experts suggest you should do -- and not do -- to keep your dog warm
and healthy this winter.

Consider a coat Although almost all dogs come with fur coats, those coats may not be
enough to protect some breeds from the effects of wind, precipitation and low
temperatures. For these dogs, a store bought coat may be necessary. “Think of the very
short-coated dogs, especially those with low body fat, such as Whippets and Greyhounds,”
says Dr. Eldredge, co-author of Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook (Wiley, 2007).
“And many toy breeds have such a close body-surface-to-weight ratio that they can be
chilled easily as well.” If you decide to get a coat for your dog, be sure to follow the
manufacturer’s instructions to determine what size to purchase.

Think twice about footwear Dogs do get cold feet, but many won’t tolerate wearing booties
to keep their paws warm. If you want your dog to accept footwear, Dr. Eldredge
recommends using positive training techniques. “Put one bootie on, give a treat, then take
it off,” she suggests. Repeat that for a couple of days, and then try putting booties on two
paws, three paws and, finally, all four paws.

Ramp up grooming Keeping your dog’s coat well brushed and paw fur trimmed can make a
big difference during winter. “Dogs whose coats get matted will have a harder time drying
out after being out in snow and cold rain,” explains Dr. Eldredge. “And we trim our dogs’
feet, which may make them get cold a bit faster, but it reduces the amount of ice, snow and
mud caught in the pad hair.”

Watch for frostbite Human beings aren’t the only individuals who can get frostbite; dogs
can too. “The most common areas for frostbite are the ear tips, tail tips -- especially if the
tail is relatively hairless -- and toes,” says Dr. Eldredge. “The affected area will feel cold,
may look white when you check the skin, and eventually will feel hard and dry. If you
suspect frostbite, you need to contact your veterinarian right away.”

Don’t change the diet Contrary to popular opinion, “the average dog does not need a diet
change for winter,” says Dr. Eldredge. “They really aren’t outside that much.”  Exceptions
would be working sled dogs, which need to eat more food during the winter. Other dogs
should stay on their regular regimens so that they don’t gain weight.

Move the action indoors When the outside temperature is bone chilling, it’s prudent to play
indoor games with your dog to give it the mental and physical workout it needs. Experts
suggest basic games like fetch and tug-of-war for physical exercise, and activities like hide-
and-seek and find-the-toy to offer mental challenges.

Don't skimp too much on heat.  Good energy conservation demands that we turn down our
thermostats when we're not at home during the winter. But don't turn it down so low that
your home-alone dog starts to shiver. Keeping the thermostat at around 65 degrees
Fahrenheit will keep your four-legged friend comfortable while still holding down your
heating bills. For arthritic and older dogs, consider purchasing a heated dog bed. Such beds
can bring warmth and comfort while also helping to ease stiff joints.

Use common sense.  Unless your dog pulls a sled during the winter, it doesn’t need to
spend a whole lot of time outdoors. A good rule to follow is if you’re bundled up against the
elements and starting to feel uncomfortably cold, your dog probably feels that way too.
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