When the temperatures start to fall and the four-legged member of the family isn’t all that excited about making the trip outdoors for some exercise or to check out the good looking French poodle down the street, what’s an owner to do?
The response, according to those well versed by training or experience, is there isn’t a one-answer-fits-all reply.
“Dogs tend to be more tolerant of the cold than we humans are, but a good rule of thumb is that if outdoor conditions are not comfortable for you, they may not be for them either,” noted Dr. Evan Klein, a veterinarian who works with the Petropolis Pet Resort in Chesterfield. Problems caused by cold weather are more commonly found in younger and elderly animals, he added, but some situations are going to pose difficulties for almost any dog.
Klein said he recently saw a dog traveling in the back of a pick-up truck. The temperature was just above freezing, he said, but the wind chill on the animal as the vehicle sped down the road was considerably less than that.
Dressing for the weather helps humans, but Klein said he’s not certain that dog coats and sweaters are that helpful for pets. “They aren’t harmful, but does every dog need that kind of thing? I think not,” he observed.
In regard to dog boots or socks, Klein said, “If you can get them to stay on and your pet isn’t trying to get them off all the time, they can help protect a dog’s paws, especially when it’s snowy or icy.”
One thing is certain: There’s no shortage of designs, materials and colors of these outerwear products available. At Pet Supplies Plus in Ballwin, pet owners can find everything from hats to boots to Cardinals and Blues attire.
Dr. Emily Leonard, of Cherry Hills Veterinary Hospital in Grover [Wildwood], said pet owners might believe that preventatives, such as those for flea, tick and heartworm, are not necessary during the colder months. However, that simply isn’t true, she said, because our climate in Missouri is conducive to those pests living all year.
“It is so important to use those preventatives year-round to make sure your pet is protected from the diseases that are carried by fleas, ticks and mosquitoes,” Leonard said.
Just like snowflakes, no two dogs are exactly alike. Fred Brenner, of Ballwin, offers an experience with his two female bloodhounds that illustrates how two dogs close to identical in age and size can have different behaviors when it comes to cold weather and the elements that often accompany it.
After December’s wet snowfall dumped about 5 inches in his yard, Scout T. Bloodhound [the T stands for “The”] enjoyed running through it and doing an imitation of a canine snowplow, Brenner said. Ellie [same middle initial and last name] didn’t go for such antics and quickly let it be known she preferred the warmth of the family home, thank you very much.
Scout is just over 2 years old and tips the scales at 120 pounds. Ellie is 2 months older and weighs 109 pounds. Neither would be considered small or in the puppy stage.
The dogs don’t mind cold weather walks and engaging in their passion of searching for intriguing scents. However, because the dogs’ long ears are constantly are on the ground doing what they are supposed to do – stirring up whatever scents are there, they do get cold, especially if it’s snowy or icy. When they return home, Brenner’s solution is to take an ear between his hands and gently rub them back and forth. The dogs love it, as Ellie’s half-closed eyes staring up at the ceiling clearly demonstrated.
Brenner and Klein both advise that the best pet protection is human intervention. To that end, here are some other cold weather tips and advice for dog owners:
Take steps to combat obesity. Longer periods of comparative inactivity can lead to weight gain, even though dogs do burn more calories to stay warm when the temperature drops. Klein suggested checking your animal’s weight monthly to spot any inappropriate increases. Leonard suggested that pet owners can cut calories from their pet’s normal diet by supplementing with no calorie “treats” such as carrots or green beans. Regular exercise also is as important to your dog as it is to you so bundle up as needed and get your pet out for some play or a walk. If it’s snowy and wet, be sure to dry off your animal with a towel when you return.
Protect against irritated skin. Repeatedly going out into the cold and snow and back into the dry heat of your home can cause itchy, cracked or flaking skin, according to the ASPCA. To prevent skin irritation, the nonprofit recommends drying your pet with a towel as soon as it comes inside, paying special attention to its stomach, feet and between its toes. Bathe pets as little as possible during the winter. Washing them too often can strip essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry skin problems. If your dog must have frequent baths, ask your vet to recommend a moisturizing shampoo.
Protect against chemical ingestion. Klein recommended that dog owners who use ice melt products buy the kind that is pet-friendly. Most pet stores and building supply retailers stock it during cold weather months, he said. Be wary of ice melt chemicals on walks through the neighborhood. Bringing a towel to wipe chemical residue off of Fido’s feet can prevent him from ingesting it. The same holds true for antifreeze, which can be lethal to both dogs and cats. The ASPCA [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] suggests that pet owners consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Massaging a protectant like petroleum jelly into a dog’s paw pads before going outside also can help protect them from salt and chemicals.
Seek out socialization. Granted that can be more difficult in cold weather months when trips to dog parks like Happy Hounds in Wildwood and other outings may not be as practical or appealing. However, using winter months to take advantage of dog-training classes, such as those offers at Casey Ray’s in Wildwood, can deliver the best of all worlds for both owners and pets – exercise, bonding time, socialization and good behavior. Doggy day care facilities also are available in a number of areas including Petropolis in Chesterfield, Dogtopia in Ellisville and Puppington Palace in Wildwood to name a few. Dog-friendly amenities such as heated indoor and outdoor areas where pets can romp in colder weather, socialize with other friendly canines and be groomed can help owners and pets weather winter in comfort.