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Published on February 10, 2016
Many dogs love the snow and cold temperatures of winter. After all, a Labrador Retriever was bred to retrieve ducks in the chilly waters of Labrador, which is on the same latitude as Sweden and Norway. Despite this, there are still many hazards for dogs that pose a serious threat during the winter months.
Very short coated breeds, and those with little to no undercoat to serve as insulation, will have a hard time adjusting to the cold, especially if the majority of their time is spent indoors at a steady 70 degree temperature. In general, dog breeds originally from warm climates tend to be poorly suited to the cold, like the Mexican short-coated Chihuahua, African Basenji and Egyptian Pharaoh hound. Other dogs who can become chilled easily are those whose builds include very little body fat – greyhounds and whippets, for example. All of these dogs may benefit from wearing a coat in the winter.
Smaller, shorter dogs tend to struggle more in the cold weather if snow and slush is an issue. On uncleared paths, small dogs quickly become exhausted from the effort of plowing through the snow. Even the most thickly furred dog is at risk of hypothermia if he becomes wet or the wind chill factor is severe.
All dogs outside in the winter need to be active or be well protected from the wind and cold ground. Ear margins, tail tips and feet can become frost bitten quickly if a dog is immobile in the deep cold. Expect your dog to tire more easily — just staying warm burns a lot of calories — and plan your hike accordingly.
Salt products sprayed or sprinkled on roads and sidewalks to melt ice can be hazardous to your dog. They can be very irritating to feet if your pet must walk on them. If ingested, these products can cause drooling, vomiting or diarrhea, and rarely, depending upon the volume ingested, much more serious illness. Discourage your dog from eating snow and drinking from icy puddles. In your own environment try to use salt-free non-toxic products, or spread kitty litter or sand instead for improved traction.
Slipping and Sliding
While dogs have natural 4-wheel drive, they still are susceptible to slips and falls when walking or running on icy surfaces. Chasing a tennis ball across an icy field is probably not a good idea. Shattered ice and crusty snow can sometimes be sharp enough to cut paw pads, especially when dogs are moving fast and landing with force. While many dogs don’t like them, some dogs do learn to tolerate boots for wearing in the winter, and this may be a good alternative for your pet. These can provide protection as well as improved traction.
Remember that cars will be unable to stop as short during icy conditions. Give yourself and your dog plenty of time to cross the street and get out of harm’s way.
Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun
For many dogs, winter is a joyful time to be outside. They don’t overheat like they do in the summer months, and snow is usually added fun. Just remember to pay attention when low temperatures and wind-chill are extreme. Consider your pet’s breed, fitness and personality, and take a few precautions when planning your winter outings in order to keep your dog safe.