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Winter Safety Tips for Furry Friends

BY ANNA DICKENS

Growing up in Wisconsin, I have endured my fair share of harsh winters. And even though Nashville’s climate is (thankfully) far more forgiving than the blustery North, I still adhere to my tried-and-true Midwestern winter safety strategies: wear plenty of layers; invest in a good, warm coat, and, when driving in icy conditions, always leave ample time to brake!

But how can we protect our furry friends when the mercury dips? Although it’s easy to assume that pets are better able to tolerate frosty conditions because of their natural fur coats, this isn’t the case for our domesticated friends. In fact, cold weather can pose just as much as a risk for dogs as extreme heat.

Below are some safety tips to keep in mind during these blustery days of the approaching winter season. 

1) If it feels like a frozen tundra outside, adjust your routine accordingly. Shorten walks and reduce time spent outdoors with your pup. Or, for longer periods outdoors, consider dog boots and coat to help keep your friend warm. If your pup becomes bored from limited time outdoors, try tossing a ball around the house to tire him or her out, if space allows; or, engage your pet in puzzle toys or training to help offer mental stimulation.

2) Never shave down your dog in the winter—their natural coat serves as a barrier against the cold. For short-haired dogs, like boxers, pit bulls and the like, it’s a great idea to have a fleece sweater to help them stay toasty, and a warm overcoat for outdoor time. (Greyhounds in particular have a hard time regulating body temperature and need a greyhound coat during colder months.)  Also, if you bathe or wash your dog during cold weather, be sure to thoroughly dry him before letting him outside.

3) Know your dog. Some long-haired dog breeds, such as Huskies, are naturally more acclimated to colder climates, so you don’t have to worry as much about them getting too cold. But other dogs, especially puppies, are much more sensitive to the cold, so care and caution should be exercised when taking them outside. Also, elderly dogs are less tolerant of cold temperatures, and arthritis flare-ups can occur. Heated pet beds are available in many pet stores and work great for younger or older cats and dogs who need a little extra warmth.

4) Like humans, pets are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, so you should limited prolonged exposure to cold weather. Recognize the signs of hypothermia in dogs. According to PetMd, the first sign of hypothermia is “paleness and shivering,” followed by “listlessness to the point of lethargy and frostbite of certain body parts such as the tail, tips of the ears, scrotum, and foot pads.” Consult a veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these warning signs; if left untreated, coma and heart failure may occur.

5) Winter can be harsh on your dog’s paws. After walking on snowy or icy sidewalks, inspect your pet’s paws for signs of injury. Ice accumulation and salt buildup can irritate or even damage their paw pads. Additionally, if your dog has furry or feathery feet, trim down some of the fur around their paws to discourage ice buildup. As an additional precautionary measure, you might even consider purchasing some dog booties.

6) Don’t keep your dog in a parked car. We know the perils of extreme heat for dogs, but what about the extreme cold? Neither temperature extreme is safe for your pet so it’s best to leave your furry friend at home if you’ll be running errands.

7) Beware of antifreeze, which can leak from a car’s radiator. According to the Humane Society of the United States, antifreeze is a deadly poison with a sweet taste that may attract animals and children, but even the smallest sip can be fatal. To keep dogs safe, the Humane Society recommends wiping up accidental spills and keeping dogs away from the garage or driveway during winter months.

With these tips in your arsenal, you can ensure that Jack Frost won’t nip at your beloved pet this winter. Wishing you a safe and happy winter season!
 

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