Baby It Is Cold Outside

Photo Courtesy Patrick Danforth Photography

To some dogs, the weather outside may be frightful. Other dogs my delight to romp and play in snow and ice, and how can you blame them? After all, Malamutes and Siberian Huskies live for the snow and cold. On the other paw, Toy Poodles would hop on a plane to Hawaii if they could, and all Greyhounds and other sight hounds would winter in Florida.

There’s no absolute rule about which dogs and at what temperatures may need a substantial coat (one with lining to really keep the dog warm). If the dog is under 20 lbs. and the temperature dips below freezing it’s a good idea to put that coat on. Sight hounds have around seven or eight percent body fat, that’s substantially under half of what most other dogs have, so they also require protection from the elements, even when the weather falls below 40 degrees, or is 45 or 50 degrees and damp outside.

Age and general health also matter – so elderly dogs or dogs in poor health – of nearly any size benefit by wearing a coat if it’s very cold.

Even some larger breeds, due to lean bodies and/or little fur to protect, really will appreciate a coat, including the Dalmatian, Vizsla, Weimaraner and many mixed breeds, including many pit bull-type dogs.

One argument against dogs wearing coats is, “Back in the day, great grandpa’s dog managed in a dog house – which wasn’t even heated.”

Yes, the dog managed, but did the dog suffer?

Also, today so many dogs are indoors – your bed has replaced the dog house. Dogs aren’t acclimated to the cold as they once were.

Wearing a coat can be very fashionable. Your dog may even represent your favorite pro or college sports team with an appropriate logo.

Dogs and cats who go out in very cold weather really can get frostbite; most vulnerable are their extremities, such as tips of tails and ear tips. No one has developed canine earmuffs or a “tail glove,” so until that happens – it’s an adult’s job to determine when enough is enough.

That can be challenging, as some dogs – being dogs – will romp and play outside longer than they should, especially if you’re playing along.

Some dogs love diving into the snow, of course – they get wet and cold just as we do when playing in the snow. That’s fine, to a point.

The combination of ice and cold and snow, and especially with street salt added to the mix, will sting dog paws. Little ice balls can form between the paw pads, and this hurts – which is why dogs sometimes hop along in the cold.

There are three solutions for this problem:

  • Booties: Some say they’re not “manly,” but sled dogs now wear booties, and so do macho working search and rescue dogs going over rough terrain. And if it’s good enough for them – it’s good enough for you. More people have more luck with Velcro to keep the booties from falling off.
  • Various products like Musher’s Secret (available online and at many pet stores) and even spraying unflavored no-stick cooking spray (such as Pam) on dog’s paws will deter snow and ice from sticking to paw pad, if you’re not using booties.
  • Pet Friendly Salt: Many pets get upset tummies licking salt off their paws, and street salt that is typically used can really hurt dog paws. A pet friendly option like Safe Step Sure Paws is not only better for your pets, but also for the environment, and your concrete – and it also designated as a “Safer Choice” by the US EPA. At some point, traditional street salt may no longer be sold at all.

As for cats, there are always dangers to being outdoors, but it’s particularly true when temperatures dip. The good news is that cats are pretty resourceful at finding warmth. But that’s also the bad news. To a cat seeking heat, a warm car hood is like a cozy electric blanket to slink into. As a result, veterinarians in cold weather climates too often treat cats seriously mangled (some don’t survive) when people innocently start their engines. It’s not a bad idea to follow Tony Orlando’s advice; knock three times on the car hood in the morning before turning on the ignition to wake up any catnappers.

Desperate for water which isn’t frozen, outdoor cats may drink anything they can find. And antifreeze is always tempting for pets. Less than a quarter a cup of antifreeze can kill a Great Dane, and a teaspoon’s worth can end the life of a small dog or a cat. Anti-freeze products marketed as pet-friendly are safer; these brands contain bittering agents which make it taste awful so pets aren’t tempted to sample.

A common concern, particularly as the weather hovers from just below freezing up to the 30’s, are ponds, rivers and lakes, and particularly retention ponds in condominium complexes. The ice may not be as solid as you think. Every year there are instances of dogs falling through thin ice, and worse people succumbing attempting to rescue pets.

Winter can be exasperating for some pets and a whole lot of fun for others – no matter, we need to do our best to keep them safe.


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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is www.stevedale.tv


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