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— January 17, 2012 —

Winter Wonderland v/s Winter Woes
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

So, old man winter has finally descended upon us. With the recent snowfall, you may be tempted to go out and let your dogs run and play. If you’re dogs are anything like mine, they’re ready to go as well.

As much as this is a great time for everyone, there are a few things that we have to keep in mind before we head out.

First, consider that our dogs are usually barefoot. In the winter, as in summer, dogs vent body heat through their feet. This is necessary to prevent overheating in the summer. In the winter, however, the cold ground draws heat out of the dog very quickly. This can lead to dangerous cold weather injuries.

Dogs can suffer hypothermia and frostbite just like we can. The problem is that they are able to ignore their discomfort for longer than we can. Because of their stoicism, our dogs can be in real trouble before we notice it. A mildly hypothermic dog may at first seem tired or shiver. More severe cases may show dilated pupils, lack of coordination or collapse.

You can bring a mildly hypothermic dog in and warm him up. Use dry blankets or warm water bottles that are no more than warm to the touch. This should be done slowly. Don’t risk burning him with overly hot items. The more severe cases are veterinary emergencies and are immediately life threatening.

Frostbite is the freezing of tissue. It is just as dangerous as severe hypothermia. When your dog’s tissue freezes, it looses blood supply. This may lead to tissue death and can be recognized by a pale very cold skin surface. It may be difficult to see this, since most of our dogs are covered with fur, we have to check them regularly if we stay out for any period of time. Like severe hypothermia, frostbitten dogs should be taken to the vet immediately.

I’ve been asked how long before we need to worry about our dogs. I hesitate to give anyone any specific time frame since each dog/breed is different and the actual temperature plays a huge role in the level of risk. A Husky can practically live in the snow, while a Pointer will not tolerate it nearly as well. Of course, even the Husky can get into trouble if he gets wet. I usually check my dogs every few minutes or any time they show signs of discomfort, like lifting a paw.

The toes are often the first area to show frostbite. Other areas of concern are the ears and tails. These areas have less blood flow therefore are more prone to the effects of freezing temperatures. Remember, if your dog has ever had a cold weather injury, they are much more likely to have another one. Owners of these dogs must be doubly vigilant.

The thing my dogs most hate about winter is road salt. I find that my dogs are usually pretty comfortable walking in the snow until AFTER they have walked through a heavily salted area. In the winter, a dog’s pads can crack much like dry skin. The road salt gets into the these cracks and causes painful burning. If your dog’s paws are burning, they may lick them and ingest road salt. While road salt comes from the same places that table salt comes from, it is not nearly as “clean” as table salt. There are also chemicals added to road salt that make it unsafe to consume. As much as they hate it, I have my dogs wear Pawz paw protectors when we have to walk through salted areas. If we happen to stumble upon salted areas without the paw protectors, I make sure to rinse each dog’s paws when I return home. I have found the easiest way to do this is to use a large bowl of lukewarm water. Also, there are paw creams that help heal the dry pads. These can be used in winter too.

So, while winter can be a fun time for everyone, there are risks. Fortunately, it just takes a few simple steps to help protect your dogs.



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