Cold weather complications

Protecting Fido from winter hazards



Q: What’s the big deal about antifreeze being bad for dogs? Is it really that harmful?

A: Anti-freeze is extremely toxic to dogs and cats. unfortunately, anti-freeze is also sweet-tasting and pets will lap it up if they find even a few drops in the driveway or on the garage floor.

One-half teaspoon of anti-freeze per pound of dog body weight is enough to cause the clinical signs of poisoning. The poison attacks the nervous system and the kidneys; the symptoms are depression, lack of coordination, vomiting and diarrhea, increased thirst, and seizures. The toxin is rapidly absorbed; symptoms can begin within an hour of exposure.

The toxic ingredient in most anti-freeze is ethylene glycol. If you suspect your dog has ingested anti-freeze, call your veterinarian immediately. There is an antidote available, but time is of the essence; the poison can be fatal if the kidneys are damaged. Antizol-vet is available as a prescription drug to be given intravenously if anti-freeze poisoning is suspected or confirmed. There is a new anti-freeze on the market made from propylene glycol that appears to be safer. However, propylene glycol is also toxic; although it does not attack the kidneys, it does affect the nervous system and may cause lack of coordination and seizures.

The best bet is to carefully cap all containers of anti-freeze and keep them out of the reach of pets. If small amounts do drip when the anti-freeze is being added to the car radiator, clean them up and flush the area with water.

Paw pad care

Q: My dog and I go for as many walks in the winter as we do the rest of the year. Lately, I’ve noticed that my dog’s paw pads are cracked and sore. What could be causing this?

A: Salt used for de-icing roads and sidewalks is the most likely culprit. It dries out your dog’s pads leading to the problems you’ve described. To prevent them, wash your dog’s toes and pads with warm water after walks to remove any salt residue and dry them thoroughly.

Dog booties are available to protect paws, but many dogs do not like to wear them, and baby oil rubbed on and between the pads helps keep pads pliable and eliminate ice build-up when snow and slush cover the ground, streets, and sidewalks.

Winter walks

Q: My dog loves to romp in the snow but he gets balls of ice between his toes that hurt him. He goes crazy trying to chew them off. What can I do about it?

A: Keep the hair between your dog’s toes and pads clipped short, even with the bottom of the foot. When hair is left too long, snow sticks to it, forming ice balls that are uncomfortable and hard to remove. Long hair between the pads also reduces traction, making it easier for your dog to slip and hurt himself on the ice.

Good nail care is important, too. Nails that are too long also reduce traction. They force the dog to walk on the backs of his feet, splaying his toes. The greater the space between his toes, the more snow will pack up between them.

My dog shivers in the cold....

Q: My dog weighs about 25 pounds and is smooth-coated. He shivers like crazy when we go for walks when the temperature is below about 45 degrees. What can I do?

A: Buy him a coat. Dog coats are available in a wide variety of fabrics and patterns.

Housetraining problems

Q: Help! I have a small dog that doesn’t like the cold or snow. She doesn’t want to go outside in it so instead of telling me that she needs to go to the bathroom, she does her business on the carpet. We have this problem every winter and I’m getting fed up.

A: This is a common complaint, especially with toy breeds, but it’s not hard to solve. Rather than wait for her to ask to go out, put her on a regular potty schedule and take her outside at the appropriate times: first thing in the morning, last thing at night and twice in between. If necessary, shovel snow from the area you want her to use. If she will not relieve herself then and there and isn’t trustworthy loose in the house, confine her to a dog crate when she can’t be supervised. For most dogs, even stubborn ones, this refresher course in housetraining 101 reminds them that they’re expected to be ladies and gentlemen whatever the weather.

Outdoor Housing

Q: My dog lives outside most of the time. I’ve been told that dogs can stay warm easier than people. Is that true? Do I need to do anything special to make him comfortable in the winter?

A: Although dogs do maintain a normal body temperature that’s a couple of degrees higher than a human’s temperature, we still have to give them some help to stay warm in cold weather.

Start with a small, cozy, insulated dog house. Bigger is not better! The house needs to be small to trap and hold your dog’s body heat which will help keep him warm through the night. It should be just large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down in comfortably. The house can be homemade but new insulated plastic models available today are inexpensive and designed especially for comfort in cold weather.

Put the house in a sheltered location out of the wind. Take advantage of the sun’s warmth by putting it on the east or south side of your home. Placing it on a low platform to keep it off the frozen ground will help, too. The house should have a door or heavy flap over the entrance to keep out drafts.


Q: What should I use for bedding? I’ve heard that old blankets aren’t a good idea.

A: You heard right. Blankets and quilts are alright for people inside heated homes but outside, they trap moisture that can make your dog damp, chilly and uncomfortable. A better bedding is fresh clean hay or straw. They allow moisture to evaporate, retain warmth, are biodegradable and cost only a few dollars a bale. The best of these is “salt marsh” hay. All are readily available from farm supply and feed stores, stables, or local farmers. When buying straw or hay, use your nose! It should smell fresh and pleasant like dried grass clippings. Avoid any that smells strongly of mold or mildew. Spread the bedding generously in the dog house, four-to-five inches thick, and replace as needed.

Outdoor water dishes

Q: My dog’s water dish freezes over a lot of the time. Would it help to fill his dish with hot water? Or should I just give him fresh water twice a day and not worry?

A: Neither. Dogs need fresh water available to them all day especially in winter when their bodies are vulnerable to dehydration. A twice daily watering isn’t enough. Metal objects conduct and lose heat quickly so switching to a heavy plastic dish will help. So will your choice of color, container size and location – dark colors absorb heat from the sun and a deeper dish will freeze less quickly than a wide, shallow one. In areas where sub-freezing temperatures are common, a more efficient solution is an electric bucket heater or birdbath de-icer.

Winter diet

Q: Now that it’s cold out, my dog seems to be hungrier even though I’m giving him the same amount he’s always had. Is it okay to feed him more?

A: Dogs may tend to eat more during cold weather, but inclement weather may prevent them from getting enough exercise to burn off extra calories. If Maestro begins begging at the table or looking particularly wistful when her dish is empty, beware of “just letting her lick the plates” or tossing her a bit of cheese or chicken when you’re fixing dinner. If you’re not careful, she’ll need an exercise regimen to slim her waist when spring rolls around.

Table scraps can be fed to dogs without ill effects if they replace some of the regular diet, not add to it. Just avoid spicy or fatty foods and keep portions small. A quarter or third cup of boiled chicken meat or turkey giblets in broth or a few left-over veggies (unbuttered, without sauce) can be a real treat for a pooch tantalized by the good smells coming from the kitchen.

Food tends to sit around the house during the holidays. Dogs quickly learn about hard candy in that bowl on the coffee table or the box of chocolates that the boss sent over. And they learn to cadge food from guests at a party or from kids who trail Christmas cookie crumbs throughout the house. Some dogs will eat wrappers and all in their haste to down the prize before discovery.

Chocolate, of course, is poisonous to dogs, but the toxicity depends on the amount of theobromine in the particular candy the dog has eaten. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate tend to be high in the substance; milk chocolate tends to have little. Shasta might eat a piece or two of milk chocolate with few or no ill effects, but a bar of baking chocolate could kill her.

Even if the ill-gotten gains don’t poison a pooch, they can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, constipation, or intestinal blockages – hardly worth the momentary acquiescence to pleading eyes and nagging of a hungry pet. Every successful food theft or begging session leads a pet further down the path to a life of crime. So, as with anti-freeze, the best bet is to control the dog’s access to food throughout the season. It’s not difficult to keep bowls of snack food out of reach, to confine the dog when people are eating, or to clean up the crumbs after snacks and meals to avoid creating a food felon. As with most things in life, preventing problems usually takes less effort than solving them.

“It’s so cold out, I feel sorry for my dog....”

Q: Sometimes it’s so cold out that I really feel sorry for my dog. I was told that it’s bad to bring him inside no matter how cold it gets. Is that true?

A: Like people, animals’ bodies become accustomed to the climate they live in. Getting used to the cold is harder when we’re exposed to frequent changes in temperature - one minute warm, the next minute cold. It’s usually recommended that a dog meant to live outside should be kept outside much of the time. This doesn’t mean, though, that your dog must stay out constantly during periods of extreme cold or very bad weather. Please do bring your dog in when it’s not fit outside for man nor beast!

Hypothermia and frostbite

Q: What are hypothermia and frostbite?

A: Hypothermia is a lowering of the core body temperature well below the dog’s normal 101.5-102.5 normal rectal temperature. Substantial lowering of the temperature interferes with the metabolic functions of the body and affects the internal organs. A dog’s first reaction to the lowering of his temperature is to shiver. Shivering increases muscle activity, which in turn increase heat production. At the same time, his blood circulation shifts away from his legs and feet to his internal organs.

Mild hypothermia causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, but if the time and severity of heat loss continues, heart rate and blood pressure decline and cardiac arrhythmias or cardiac arrest can occur. Severe hypothermia leads to respiratory depression, lethargy, lack of coordination, paralysis, and collapse.

Treatment for hypothermia involves rapid warming of the body. In mild cases, heating pads, hot water bottles, or a warm water bath will do the trick, but severe cases require introducing warmed fluids internally via intravenous flow, dialysis, or enema. Veterinarians may also use corticosteroids and monitor the dog for heart arrhythmias and pneumonia and check for frostbite.

Prolonged exposure to the cold can also cause frostbite — the death of tissue in the extremities. Dog toes, tails, ear tips, and scrotum are the most common frostbite areas. Frostbitten tissue appears pale and is cold to the touch. It should be rewarmed slowly and given time to heal. It may turn red and swollen and be very painful as it heals. If it does not heal in three or four days, amputation of the dead tissue should be done to avoid gangrene or mummification of the area.

Obviously, prevention is worth more than a pound of cure with hypothermia and frostbite. So, a few simple precautions:

If Ranger is an outside dog with a thick double coat, is accustomed to frigid winter weather and has a sheltered place to get away from wind and rain, he can probably stay outside no matter what winter throws his way. But if he’s old, arthritic, or debilitated in some way or if his coat’s not heavy enough, let him sleep inside when the temperature dips below freezing.

If Riddle enjoys her daily excursions, by all means continue, but watch out for chemical ice-melting compounds on driveways, sidewalks, and streets. If you can’t avoid them, wipe her feet when you get back home so she doesn’t ingest the chemical when licking her paws. If the sidewalk is slushy, put some baby oil on Riddle’s feet before you go out to help prevent slushsicles from forming between the pads of her paws.

If your pet is a puppy or geriatric dog, don’t leave him outside without supervision, especially in snow. Dog feet can get very cold very quickly, especially on thin-coated dogs, and you may have to rescue a shivering pet who cannot walk across the snow.

Vicki DeGruy/Norma Bennett Woolf

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