Taking care of dogs in winter

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2005

Doggie Do'sBy Linda Shipman

You look out the window, contemplating snow, ice, winds and cold temperatures. It doesn't look like an appealing day to be out walking, but your dog still needs exercise. If you don't go, are you ready for an increased canine energy level and mischief around the house?

A great antidote to winter doldrums and misbehaving dogs is training classes. They keep minds and bodies active, and in the process you build a stronger bond with and hopefully instill better manners in your dog. Check newspaper classified ads for the latest offerings.

If you do venture outside, Marty Messick, trainer and owner of two Corgis, recommends, "When trails are too icy or snowbound, try the beaches. The high tides wash away the ice and snow twice a day. It's also worth investing in a pair of ice cleats for shoes or boots."

Cold outside temperatures can be hard on very young, very old, and infirm dogs and breeds without undercoats. Consider a sweater or parka for these fragile canines. Gaile Haynes, trainer and owner of Italian Greyhounds suggests, "cutting the ribbing top from a sock and pulling it over the head to cover the ears of a delicate breed."

Does your dog seem to collect snow and ice balls on its feet or feathering? Susan Hoffman, trainer and owner of Belgian Shepherds and a Schipperke, suggests using "Mushers Secret" paw wax, touted as protection against salt and chemicals, abrasions, burning and cracking. All these dog owners recommend cutting the hair between footpads to prevent collections of snow and ice balls. Vicky McLaughlin, owner of a Welsh and a Border Terrier, employs a warm rag to wipe feet or has a small tub of warm water to dip feet and dry with towel when arriving home.

Dr. Barb Deyell, Southeast Alaska Veterinary Clinic, addresses common injuries incurred during outdoor treks:

"A lot of times dogs will go swimming in the ocean despite the temperatures outside. This makes the dog much more prone to chilling and frostbite, if they can't get somewhere warm afterwards right away.

"Be cautious around activity on slippery surfaces; for instance, playing fetch where there is ice. Dogs can really injure themselves. We see a lot of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL injuries) from slipping on ice and running hard in deep snow.

"It's great exercise to go skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and skating with your dog, but be careful of the dog that likes to be underfoot. We see a lot of lacerations from these types of equipment, some of which are quite serious.

"Be careful of dark-colored animals during winter's darkness. Many people just let their dogs out loose to go to the bathroom when it is cold and dark. These animals are more prone to being hit by cars."

Chava Lee, Gastineau Humane Society's executive director, echoes that one of the prevalent injuries the society sees during the winter season is an "off-leash dog hit by a car because the driver can't swerve to miss because of road conditions."

At home, chemicals and salts used to melt ice can irritate dog pads. Either take the dog out a different way to avoid these chemicals, or wipe their feet with a damp towel to prevent them from licking their feet and irritating their mouths. Messick adds, "You can use cat litter for walkways. It doesn't hurt doggie paws, grass or plants. Check for cat litters that are made of granular clay-like material, well suited for this application."

Another dangerous chemical is automotive antifreeze, attractive to dogs because of its sweet taste. If it drips on the floor, wipe it up immediately and store the container on high shelving in the garage.

Messick suggests using, "nonpoisonous antifreeze, available locally. You can do this at home, working on your own car. Watch dogs around parking lots, where it's possible poisonous antifreeze may have leaked out."

Do you have a completely outdoor dog? Its house should be 1) draft-free; 2) large enough to lie down or sit comfortably; 3) small enough to build up body heat; 4) lined with bedding on the floor, such as straw; 5) off the ground by a few inches; 6) turned away from the wind, with a door covering made of burlap or heavy plastic; and 7) stocked with a plastic bowl with fresh, not frozen water. Dogs can freeze their tongues to metal bowls in severe weather. Consider a heated water bowl. If you can't find one in town, try a Web search on "dog water bowl heated."

Of course, if your "inside the house" dog is not receiving as much exercise during the winter, it makes sense to cut its food portions. Consult http://www.purina.ca/dogs/nutrition.asp?article=292 as a gauge for whether your dog is an ideal weight.

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