By: Jessica Brody, Guest Writer
Most dog owners love playing with their dogs in the snow—seeing how they react to playing with snowballs, encountering snowmen, and chasing neighborhood kids while they slide down hills on sleds. But as much fun as winter brings for our dogs, it can also bring some dangers. It’s important to be aware of the hazards winter poses to your dog’s health so you can take the necessary steps to protect him.
1. Take Breaks During Walks
Even if your dog is full of energy, you need to take breaks when you walk him or go for a hike. The breaks help keep his paws and coat free of snow, ice, and salt or de-icing products. While you walk, you may find that your dog tries to lick the snow off his feet—the problem is the more he licks, the more snow sticks. Frequently stopping to wipe off your dog’s paws is best, especially since he may be licking off salt and ice melt that can make him very sick.
When you wipe your dog’s paws, make sure you check between his toes for chunks of ice, snow, or salt. If the snow and ice have matted down his fur, gently rub the problem areas with a dry, clean towel to loosen the icy chunks and remove them. If you are going for a long walk or hike, be sure to take several towels with you to keep your dog warm and comfortable. You may want to invest in booties to protect his feet if you plan to go on regular winter hikes.
2. Don’t Leave Your Dog in the Car
Chances are, you are well aware of the dangers of leaving your dog in the car during the hot summer months. Unfortunately, people don’t realize the dangers of leaving a dog in your car during the winter months are just as serious. When it is cold outside, cars act much like a refrigerator. Your dog can experience hypothermia and possibly die if you leave him in a cold car too long. It’s better to leave him inside your warm home when you run errands during the cold winter months.
3. Keep Your Dog on Leash
Snow and ice weaken scents and make it difficult for dogs to find their way. When you go for a walk or hike with your dog during the winter, keep him on a leash so he does not lose the scent and get lost. Some dogs panic when they are caught in a snowstorm and run away because they get disoriented and cannot find their way using scent. Sadly, this is one of the reasons more dogs are lost in winter than any other season. It’s a good idea to keep your dog’s ID tags on during the winter months and make sure he’s microchipped, too.
4. Clear a Path in the Yard
If you have a yard where your dog relieves himself, it is a good idea to shovel a path through the snow for him to use in winter. Some dogs don’t like to walk on—or through—snow and will have accidents in the house when there is snow on the ground. Other dogs, especially those with long fur, hesitate to go outside because their coats become matted with small snowballs. Clearing a path makes it much easier for him to do his business outside.
It helps you, too—a path makes for less work because you won’t have to spend as much time drying your dog or rubbing down his stomach, legs, and paws every time he goes outside. Keep a dry towel near the door so you can dry him off and warm him up each time he comes inside the house.
5. Keep Holiday Chocolate Out of Reach
One of the bright spots of winter is Valentine’s Day. While you may love your dog, you should not share your box of chocolates with him. Chocolate contains a toxin, theobromine, dogs cannot process as easily as humans. If your dog consumes large amounts of the toxin, it can lead to tremors, seizures, irregular heartbeat, internal bleeding, or heart attack. The rule of thumb is, the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous. Even if you’ve heard chocolate does not harm dogs in small quantities, it’s best to keep your dog from getting his paws on any at all. If your dog does eat some chocolate, use this toxicity meter to see if you should be worried.
The Bottom Line
Keeping your dog safe, healthy, and comfortable requires different measures throughout the year. During winter, stick to these useful tips to get him through the season unscathed—and hopefully warm, too!