Understanding how to take care of a dog during the winter takes special consideration, especially if you live in an area where snow and ice are common. Some long-haired breeds, such as German shepherds and huskies, are better suited to cold winters and love the snow, but even these dogs need protection when the temperature dips below freezing.
Keeping Your Dog Indoors
One of the best things you can do to protect your dog during harsh winter weather is to bring it inside. You can purchase a crate or indoor kennel for your dog if you are worried about it causing trouble. Even a basement is preferable to leaving your dog at the mercy of cold and snow.
Keep in mind that you will still have to walk your dog outside to use the bathroom and to get some exercise. Small dogs and short-haired breeds may need a sweater when they go outside. Small dogs lose body heat very quickly, so as a general rule you'll want them in sweaters if the temperature dips below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
When your dog comes back into the house, make sure that you clean its paws using warm water with dog shampoo. This will remove any residue from salt used to ice the sidewalk, which could burn the pads on the paws. It will also remove dirt and warm up the dog's paws.
When you walk your dog outside in the snow or ice, keep it on a leash at all times. Snow and ice mask scents. Because of this, your dog can easily become lost if it is allowed to roam free. The smells and scents that help it to find its way home may not be as pronounced as usual.
In addition, make sure that you keep an identification tag on your dog at all times. If something happens and your dog gets off of the leash, the person who finds it can use that information to contact you.
A special consideration of indoor dogs is the fireplace or heating units. Dogs love getting close to the warmth, but remember that a dog's fur can catch on fire. If you have a fireplace or use space heaters, only have them lit when you are there to supervise your pet. Protective screens aren't enough to keep your dog from getting burned. When you aren't in the room, place your dog in a crate or move it to another room away from the heat source.
Winterizing Outdoor Dogs
If your dog must stay outside, there are a lot of things you need to do to make sure that your dog stays happy and healthy through the winter.
First, make sure your dog has an insulated dog house. A dog house with a door flap is ideal. Some dogs will rip the door flap. If this happens, remove it so you do not risk having your dog choke on the plastic pieces.
Give your dog appropriate bedding in its dog house. Blankets may seem like a good option but are actually worse than having no bedding at all. When a blanket absorbs water, the water will freeze, which means the dog will be lying on a sheet of ice.
A better option is hay or straw. You should use four to five inches of either of these materials. You will have to change it out often so that your dog always has clean bedding.
Most dog owners think that dehydration is a summertime problem, but your dog can just as easily become dehydrated during the winter months. Your dog needs a constant supply of water. Because of the low temperatures, you will need to refill the water dish often to make sure that the water is not frozen. If you will be away from home for more than a few hours, you may want to get a heated water dish.
Remember that staying warm takes energy. In order to get this energy, your dog needs ample food. Dogs, by nature, usually eat more during cold weather. Make sure that you offer your dog more food during the winter months. If you live in an area where the daytime temperature is less than 40 degrees most winter days, contact your veterinarian to find out if your dog needs a fat supplement.
You should watch your dog carefully for signs of frostbite. If you notice ice on your dog's fur or areas of skin that are pale or pink, frostbite may be the cause. Wrap the area in a clean towel and then place a warm towel on top. Replace the warm towel as needed. This will slowly warm the area. In some cases, you may need to take your dog to the veterinarian for treatment.
Antifreeze Can Kill
For any dog, whether it is kept inside or outside, there is another major winter concern: antifreeze. This substance is lethal to dogs if it is ingested, and dogs are attracted to its sweet smell and taste.
It is a good idea to use pet-safe antifreeze, which is made with propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Make sure there are no leaks in your car, clean up any spills immediately and never leave an open can or bucket of antifreeze unattended. Even a couple of ounces are enough to kill your pet.
Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include increased urination, increased thirst, panting, vomiting and diarrhea. If you suspect antifreeze poisoning, get your dog to a vet immediately.
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