9 Tips for Keeping Your Dogs Healthy and Happy During Winter
When I made the big move from San Diego to Dallas last December, I woke up one morning and opened the door leading into our fenced-in backyard to a winter wonderland. Yes, enough snow had fallen to completely layer the lawn like white frosting on a cupcake.
Then came an unexpected but delightful sight: I watched Chipper, my senior Husky mix, dash outside with pure puppy glee as she raced and rolled in the freshly fallen snow — an opportunity she never could enjoy during a decade of living in balmy San Diego.
But the next day, we got hit by a nasty ice storm that left a slippery glaze on our then uncovered patio concrete floor. I cringed as Chipper slipped and slid in her attempt to navigate her four long legs into the yard. We were lucky she didn’t fall and get injured.
This winter, we will be better prepared for whatever Mother Nature has in store — and so can you, with our winter health guide, which features savvy advice from a talented trio of pet experts. Please welcome Erika de Papp, DVM, a veterinary internal medicine specialist at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston; Rob Nager, owner of Decadent Dog, a dog-walking and pet-sitting company in Boston; and Tricia Montgomery, founder of K9 Fit Club based in chilly Chicago. Collectively, they’ve endured decades of cold, snowy, and icy winters, and they share insights and tips.
1. Time for a bootie call
If your dog will tolerate them, put on protective dog boots that provide extra traction on icy surfaces. Or coat his paw pads in petroleum jelly before each outing. “There are also paw pad protectors that adhere to the pads for added cushion and traction and can be gently pulled off after being outside,” Montgomery added.
2. Rein in your doggie
Before stepping outside, fit your dog in a harness and use a 4-foot lead. Nager advised to use a short leash, not a flexi-lead, in winter. “You get much more control with a short leash and a good harness. We had more than 100 inches of snow in Boston last winter. I kept my footing by applying STABILicers (ice cleats) to my boots. Dogs outside can be unpredictable, and if they start to slip and slide, you can wind up on the ground. STABILicers give me the stable gripping I need to walk dogs.”
3. Play snowball fetch
“Just like people, dogs can ,” said Montgomery, who has survived two decades of Chicago winters. “Our dogs need physical and mental stimulation. My dog, Zeus, a red-nosed Pit Bull, loves to play fetch and catch with snowballs.”
4. Create an indoor dog bathroom
Some dogs, especially small or elderly, have difficulty wading through thick snow to go outside. Some just plain refuse to budge out the door during snow storms. “Consider providing pee pads inside for your dog to use, particularly during snow or ice storms,” Dr. de Papp said. “And for deep snow, it is important to shovel a path and an area for your dog to feel comfortable urinating and defecating outside.”
5. Ice fish sans your dog
“Fairly frequently around here, we treat dogs injured from falling through ice on ponds and lakes,” Dr. de Papp noted. “Don’t assume your dog won’t fall through the ice because he weighs less than a human. Unless the ice is declared safe for skating, don’t let your dog walk on it.”
6. Convert your living room into a canine obstacle course
“Don’t skip working out with your dog because the weather outside is wacky,” Montgomery said. “Set up a mini-obstacle course inside with paper plates inside of plastic cones. Or hide an object for your dog to find. Leash him and, together, get an aerobic workout going up and down the stairs.”
7. Perform paw inspections after each outing
Salt, de-icing chemicals, and even ice shards can cut and irritate paw pads. After each walk, Nager, a master certified pet first aid instructor, dips the dogs’ paws in bowls of room-temperature water and then wipes them with a cloth to rid their paws of ice or chemicals. “You don’t want snow-packed ice between their toes or risk them licking the chemicals off their paws,” Nager said.
8. Dish up snow cones, dog-style
Put a few pieces of kibble in a snowball and serve it in a plastic dish for your dog. “A lot of dogs love this, and I always follow up with belly rubs,” Nager said.
9. Keep the humidifier humming
Dogs with respiratory problems (chronic coughs, bronchitis) can breathe a bit easier when the indoor air isn’t dry, Dr. de Papp said. She looks forward to snowshoeing outings with her two snow-loving dogs, Lexi, a Husky mix, and Sydney, a cattle dog, this winter in Boston.
“Keep your dog exercised so he doesn’t gain extra weight during the winter,” she said. “If it is bitterly cold outside, you can skip the walk, but don’t skip exercising. Dogs benefit from moving and playing.”
Sniff out these extra tips
- Shorten your walks on very cold days. Dogs still need and benefit by doses of Mother Nature’s vitamin D (sunshine) in the winter.
- Enroll in a pet first aid/CPR course to know what to do if your dog gets hypothermia — or worse, frostbite — from prolonged exposure in the cold.