Many of us are feeling the full force of winter at the moment and so are our furry family members. Dogs left outdoors in cold weather are at high risk for injuries and illnesses such as hypothermia and frostbite. Geriatric dogs feel the effects more deeply and need extra care and support during this season. An uncommon but deadly risk is water toxicity. When a dog eats too much snow, it can develop hyponatremia (low sodium) leading to deadly neurological side effects. Sounds crazy, but it happens, so keep your snowball throwing play to a minimum.

Below are a few ways to keep your dog warm and safe during these bitterly cold days.

  1. DIET – Probably not the first recommendation you’d expect, but it is the most important, especially during the winter season. Dogs require high-quality, fresh whole food diets to support maximum health and energy needed in the cold weather. Avoid dry, overly processed kibble and canned diets. Instead, choose either a commercial raw, commercial cooked, human-grade dehydrated, air-dried, or home-cooked or home-prepared balanced raw diet. This also helps keep your dog at its ideal weight avoiding excess winter pounds. Extra weight+cold weather is a recipe for disaster for geriatric dogs with arthritis. Keep those old dogs moving as well.
  2. Schedule a WELLNESS EXAM – Twice-yearly exams for all dogs are ideal, but even more vital for seniors. Make one of those visits in the fall or early winter to ensure your dog is healthy before the cold weather arrives. Discuss a wellness plan for keeping elderly dogs comfortable throughout cold months including natural anti-inflammatory remedies, orthopedic beds, exercise routines, safe heating pads, and physical therapy.
  3. LONG HAIR COATS – Don’t shave or trim your dog’s coat short during the winter months. The longer coat will keep them warmer, especially around their feet. My toy poodle grows out her winter moccasins in prep for the snow. Also, be sure to continue regular grooming throughout the winter months since matted fur can interfere with a dog’s ability to regulate body temperature.
  4. DOGGY CLOTHING – It’s a great time to get out those beautiful coats and sweaters you have for your dogs and dress them up. A nice waterproof jacket is a perfect choice. Booties might be another great accessory if your dog will tolerate them. Keep in mind that pets lose most of their body heat through the pads of their feet, their ears, and their respiratory tract, so there’s a limit to how much warmth a sweater or jacket will provide.
  5. LIMIT TIME OUTDOORS – Accompany your dog outdoors for potty walks or to get some exercise and bring him back indoors. Do not allow dogs to stay out for prolonged periods. Larger dogs tend to tolerate the cold better than smaller dogs. Dogs with double coats tend to tolerate it better as well. However, if you are feeling cold with your heavy winter wear then your dog is likely feeling it as well.
  6. DRY OFF your dog’s fur and remove any snowballs once they are back indoors. A neat way to remove snowballs quickly is with a whisk—yes a whisk, lol. Here is a youtube video about it.
  7. NO COLD CARS – Do not leave your dog alone in a parked car for a prolonged period of time. Cars turn into ice boxes in the cold weather.
  8. AVOID SPILLED ANTIFREEZE – Ethylene glycol, found in antifreeze, is deadly for any animal if ingested. It has a sweet flavor, so dogs will often try it if it’s available. Purchase animal-safe antifreeze only.
  9. AVOID ROCK SALT – Rock salt can burn your dog’s feet. After a heavy snowstorm, shovel a path for your dog’s bathroom and exercise needs, and leave it free of rock salt. If your dog comes in contact with rock salt be sure to rinse his feet when he comes inside. Look for pet-safe rock salt options that are on the market.
  10. Be sure I.D. is on your dog at all times. Dog’s go missing more often in winter months because they can become disoriented in the snow and lose their sense of smell more easily. This can prevent them from finding their way home. It is often harder for us to keep track of our dogs in deep snow.

Some dogs require more care than others. Dogs with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or endocrine disorders are more vulnerable to the cold because they have less ability to regulate their own body temperature. Very young and older animals are also more sensitive to the cold.

Keep them safe from potentially dangerous heat sources. My dogs love their dog beds in front of the fire, but we have to make sure our little poodle Maisy doesn’t sneak even closer. Dogs tend to have common sense about this, but some have less than others. Maisy is in the “less than others” category and will get as close as possible to a heat source.

Including your dog in winter activities such as snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and hikes is a great way to give them exercise. But, make the activity time in winter weather shorter than in warmer weather. And, make sure your exercise partner is as protected against the cold as you are.

If you live by a pond, lake, or other inland water sources that tend to freeze over during cold weather, take care when letting your pet off the leash. We’ve all heard the sad stories of dogs falling through the ice during the winter months.

Signs your pet is feeling cold include:

  • Shaking
  • Crying
  • Shivering
  • Anxious behavior
  • Slowing down during walks or stopping

Enjoy the winter weather with your dog while also keeping him safe, warm, and secure.