When Fido barks to go outside, he doesn’t check the weather first. Even if he looks out the window he doesn’t know that the rain will make him wet or the snow on the ground will make his pads cold; he just sees outside. As such, he relies on his human to pay attention to these details. Thus, we humans need to note that even if Gertrude Stein sees no there there, there can still be a chill in the air there. So, as the responsible ones in the relationship, we need to take note of the temperature outside before venturing with leash in hand out there.
As it happens, once outside, dogs do notice the air temperature, and even the ground temperature. Don’t assume that Gigi’s genuine fur coat will be sufficient to ward off the chill. The simple truth is that some breeds are susceptible to the cold, while other breeds are extremely well equipped to deal with it. Dogs that do great in the cold include Alaskan Malamutes, Akitas, Siberian Huskies, Saint Bernards, Sheepdogs. Samoyeds, Great Pyrenees and Chow Chows. Dogs that are not so great in the cold are: Dobermans, Dacshunds, Beagles, Greyhounds, toy dogs, and pretty much any low-hair or (not surprisingly) any shaven or excessively clipped dog.
Since most of us aren’t Jack London material, and most of our canine companions are not Buck, cold weather outings should be tame — a call of the mild, so to speak. As a rule of thumb (or paw, if you will), plan to take shorter walks when the weather is severely cold. A shorter walk can still provide enough exercise and relief breaks without causing either pooch, or you, to become too cold. It is also a good idea to keep your dog on a leash as well. Sometimes when the snow is glistening, you may not be walking in a winter wonderland, and you don’t want to have to rescue Rex from hazardous conditions, such as very deep snow or extremely thin ice.
Consider that while Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, he will also be nipping at the nose, ears, paws and tail of Princess as well. Thus, if willing, she should sport booties when walking on snowy paths. The booties will keep her paws toasty and protected and can even make quite the statement for the more fashionable canine. However, should Zeke prefer to rough it, sans booties, be sure to clean off any snow removal products from his paws after your walk, as the chemicals can be toxic and the salt can irritate the paw pads. Also, try and keep the hair around his paw pads well-trimmed to prevent ice and snow balling up between the pads.
Needless to say, it is probably also a good idea to avoid trimming, shaving or cutting King’s fur in winter because his full coat is his principal source of warmth from the chill. However, even with a natural winter-do, it is important to maintain a good grooming regime through winter, since matted hair is less effective at keeping out the snow and cold rain. If it happens that Lady or Max falls into the “cold” breed of dog category, is senior, has a weakened immune system or disease affecting their ability to regulate body temperature, your dog should also probably don a sweater when the mercury drops below freezing.
As with many humans, cold weather conditions can lead dogs to suffer illnesses such as respiratory infections and frostbite. Therefore, here are a few things to keep in mind. To guard against a canine cold, it is essential to keep your dog dry and warm. If Buddy seems sniffly and does begin to cough, see the vet. As for frostbite, after a walk check the feel and appearance of the ear and tail tips for signs of cold. If Brandy’s tips are cold, dry, hard to the touch or appear white, red or gray, then frostbite may have occurred. If you suspect frostbite, warm the extremities gradually by wrapping them in a warm towel or blanket and see the vet immediately. Also be mindful of the placement of toxic human items commonly used during winter. Anti-freeze tastes unusually sweet to dogs, and though we may know it’s not a treat, they will lick it if they can access it. It only takes four teaspoons worth to kill a dog under 10 pounds. If your dog does ingest it, see a vet immediately as treatment needs to be given within hours to save your dog’s life.
So, if the weather outside is frightful, don’t be fretful— just watchful. After all, nature is going to call without regard for the weather report, and sometimes you and your BFF* will have to answer it on an outside line. For those other times, feel free to curl up together on the sofa with a good book or a movie. Maybe you can even find some reruns of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin to watch until spring. Because baby, it’s cold outside.
*Best Furry Friend