By Duane Friend
Some dogs handle cold weather better than humans. Still, they can get frostbite and hypothermia just like we do. Important considerations during the winter months are housing, coverage while out during extreme temperatures, foot protection, calorie intake, and hydration.
Dr. Elizabeth Wells at Michigan State University says that healthy larger dogs with double coats can be comfortable and safe in cold weather, provided they have adequate protection. A well-built insulated dog house placed where it is protected from the elements, with the door facing away from prevailing winds (usually facing east in North America) can work well.
Even with a good dog house, unless the dog is an Arctic breed, it should be brought inside at night if the temperature drops below 10 degrees F or if blizzard conditions exist.
When cold temperatures are extreme and there is snow cover, boots can protect the dog’s feet. This may seem sill, but even dogs that run in sled races are usually required to wear foot protection. Sharp ice may cut the pads, and salted surfaces can be extremely caustic and will cause considerable pain for a dog. Once inside, always clean off the dog’s feet if it has been in contact with ice melting agents.
Dogs should always have access to clean, fresh water. Calorie intake for any dog that is outside for considerable periods of time in cold weather will need to increase.
For inside dogs, pay close attention to ensure your dog does not put on excess weight during winter months, when it may be less active because of shorter walks or less outdoor play time.
Dogs are subject to hypothermia just as humans are. Mild hypothermia may result in shivering or lethargy. Moderate to severe hypothermia can result in low heart rate, low respiration rate, coma, and even death. If you suspect your dog has mild hypothermia, get it to a warm area quickly, cover it with a blanket, and use your own body heat to provide warmth.
For small breeds, you can pick your dog up and put it under your coat, but for larger breeds, the best thing to do is to get inside as soon as possible. If the dog is also wet, it is important to get the dog dry as quickly as possible. Towel dry the dog first and then use a warm hair dryer until all of the coat is dry, including the undercoat, paying special attention to the dog’s underside. Be sure to keep the dryer on low setting and at a safe distance so as not to burn your dog’s skin. If your dog is not responsive and you suspect hypothermia, call your veterinarian immediately.
It is usually not easy to spot frostbite on a dog. When dogs get frostbite, it is usually on the tips of ears, tails, feet, and scrotum. The skin in these areas will appear very light in color and cold to the touch. Later, as the skin warms up, it will turn red. Early treatment can make the difference between full recovery and losing part of an ear, tail, or other body part.
With some extra care, your dog will be able to join you and your family for winter walks and other activities you enjoy together. Getting out in the fresh air and exercising can be beneficial to the entire family.