The well-being of canines is a topic that gets a fair amount of popular media attention. Dogs have many roles in our society: family pet, stock or guard dog, law enforcement, or therapy dog. As the forecasts turn cold for the winter season, it is important to remember the safety and comfort of our four-legged friends when they spend time outside. Regardless of their primary job and whether they spend most of their time indoors or outside a few basic tips should be considered.
When dogs are outside, whether while you are at work, for walks, or if they are an outdoor ranch dog, here are tips to ensure their well-being this winter.
1. Provide shelter from the wind.
Wind chills during cold weather can easily decrease the ambient temperature by ten to twenty degrees. Blocking the wind can minimize the risk of frostbite on sensitive areas, such as the ears, nose, tail, and paw pads. For livestock guard dogs, determine if supplemental shelter is needed in a pasture or if there are enough naturally protected areas for the dog to seek comfort.
2. Offer a dry bedding area away from precipitation.
Provide a dry area away from precipitation, and if possible insulated from the ground. Keeping snow and rain off a dog allows their fur to maintain its insulation capacity. Also, having bedding or a raised wood platform to lay on instead of the ground or cement minimizes the heat loss through conduction.
3. Keep water supplies from freezing.
Use heated water buckets or rotate non-heated buckets every four to six hours depending on the temperature and freezing time. Ensure adequate warm water is available if a dog’s exercise level increases. Proper hydration is important for maintaining body temperature. When using a heated water source, always check the outlet and cords to ensure safety. Many heated water bowls may only last one full season, so observe daily at the beginning of each winter season.
4. Check paw pads often.
Watch for cracks or cuts in the pads. If cracks occur, clean and dry them thoroughly, and applying liquid Band-Aid may be helpful to keep debris out while it heals. For severe cuts, wrapping the foot may be necessary to facilitate healing and protect it from further damage. Toenails should be checked and trimmed carefully if splits occur. White nails are easier to observe as an indicator of cold limbs (pre-frostbite) than black nails because you can see the color of the blood supply inside the nail.
5. Keep paws clean, groomed and protected.
For dogs kept indoors most of the day, it is important to consider the surfaces that you take them walking on in extreme cold because their pads have not had the opportunity to adjust to the temperature change slowly like dogs that live outside. Some dogs, especially small and thin coated breeds may benefit from booties to protect their paws. If the surfaces a dog walks on has salt or ice melting products, make sure to rinse their paws to minimize the drying effects on the pads. Trimming the fur in between the paw pads minimizes the snow build-up also.
Many dog breeds have double coats that protect them sufficiently outside during the winter with little supplemental help from us, at least dogs that live outside year round. However, indoor, very young, or very old dogs have additional considerations to ensure their well-being during winter weather. Dogs that live indoors get cold faster than dogs that live outside because their body is coping with the change in temperature going from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 20 degrees Fahrenheit – a 50 degree change. Remembering these five tips will keep canines safe during the winter season.