The white, fluffy fresh powder in the mountains entices us to get ready for a fun snow day! As we pack our cars with our sleds, winter sporting gear, and cold weather coats, our furry friends are wondering if they are coming along for the ride too. For many pets, it’s a lot of fun running on snow-packed fields and catching snowballs flying through the air! But before you start up the car and head towards the snowy mountains, here are some tips for your fun snow day adventure!
According to the AVMA’s (American Veterinary Medical Association) website, these reminders are helpful when planning your next snow day adventure!
Winter wellness: Has your pet had his/her preventive care exam (wellness exam) yet? Cold weather may worsen some medical conditions such as arthritis. Your pet should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, and it's as good a time as any to get him/her checked out to make sure (s)he is ready and as healthy as possible for cold weather.
Know the limits: Just like people, pets' cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet's tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly. You will probably need to shorten your dog's walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing's disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets. If you need help determining your pet's temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.
Check the paws: Check your dog's paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of ice ball accumulation by clipping the hair between your dog's toes.
Play dress-up: If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog's feet; if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.
Wipe down: During walks, your dog's feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down (or wash) your pet's feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after (s)he licks them off of his/her feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.
Collar and chip: Many pets become lost in winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find his/her way back home. Make sure your pet has a well-fitting collar with up-to-date identification and contact information. A microchip is a more permanent means of identification, but it's critical that you keep the registration up to date.
Avoid ice: When walking your dog, stay away from frozen ponds, lakes and other water. You don't know if the ice will support your dog's weight, and if your dog breaks through the ice it could be deadly. And if this happens and you instinctively try to save your dog, both of your lives could be in jeopardy.
Recognize problems: If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Be prepared: Cold weather also brings the risks of severe winter weather, blizzards and power outages. Prepare a disaster/emergency kit, and include your pet in your plans. Have enough food, water and medicine (including any prescription medications as well as heartworm and flea/tick preventives) on hand to get through at least 5 days.
Feed well: Keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout the winter. Some pet owners feel that a little extra weight gives their pet some extra protection from cold, but the health risks associated with that extra weight don't make it worth doing. Watch your pet's body condition and keep them in the healthy range. Outdoor pets will require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to keep them warm – talk to your veterinarian about your pet's nutritional needs during cold weather.
Question: Dr. Ku, some dogs are so furry, do they really need jackets or booties to protect them when they are outside playing in snow?
Answer: "It really depends on how long they are going to be outside and how acclimated they are to the colder temperatures. If they normally spend their time inside at 70 degrees or so by the fire and then you suddenly spend 6 hours in the snow, they will be cold! If you are planning a trip to the snow, it’s a good idea to start spending more time outside in colder temperatures here in the Valley for a week or so before your trip. Most dogs with enough fur do not need a coat or jacket unless you plan to be out for more than a few hours, but if the coat is thin, even though it may be long (like a Yorkshire Terrier, for example), they may still need a coat. Small breed dogs in general tend to be a little more sensitive to temperature changes, and their feet are also more prone to frostbite and pain from the snow. Even furry big dogs (like Huskies) can have cuts or cold toes from the snow if they aren’t used to walking in snow. Monitor all dog’s feet closely when they are playing or walking in snow, even for what may seem like a short trek. While we have on socks and boots usually, we forget what it may feel like to go barefoot in the snow, and they may be having so much fun, our pooches may not notice either! 😉 " -Dr. Gloria Ku HAPPY TRAVELS!