Keeping Cold Noses Warm: Harsh Weather Tips for Dogs and Cats

As I floundered in to work this morning, I was charmed by the sight of a handsome Pit Bull cross doing the breast stroke in a snow drift. Crisp days and fluffy snow can bring out the inner dog in a dog, but harsh weather also brings real hazards to man’s best friend and other companion animals. Here are some do’s, don’ts and guidelines.

The American Kennel Club (AKC®) offers the following tips:

 •          Don’t let your pup outside by him or herself during the winter.  Always accompany him or her to warm her ear flaps between your hands and check paws to make sure snow and ice do not collect between your dogs toes. Snow and ice can cause cuts and cracked pads. A small amount of petroleum jelly may help soften and soothe paw pads. You can even use booties to help keep your dog’s paws warm and dry. [Author’s note: the booty is not for every dog—a quick trip outside is probably better than a pitched battle over natty footwear.]

•          Do limit time outside during the cold weather. Dogs can get frostbite or hypothermia when the temperatures drop.

•          Do watch out for spilled antifreeze on driveways. While it smells and tastes good to dogs, it is actually lethal to them.

Darlene Arden a pet authority, author ("Small Dogs, Big Hearts") and behavioral consultant also notes:

•          Small dogs lose heat more rapidly than larger dogs because of their small body surface. They need to wear a warm coat or sweater when going outdoors in the winter. The same holds true for dogs with little or no body hair like the Whippet and Greyhound. This is one reason I suggest not getting a puppy in the winter -- housetraining is more complicated when you have to "dress" the pup before you take him out. It's like putting a kid into a snowsuit!

•          Be sure to wash and wipe your pet's paws as soon as she or he comes in after walking on treated pavement. Licking the road salt, etc., off their paws can make them very sick or even, worst case scenario, result in death.

•          Do not take your dog in the car when you run errands. Unless the dog can go into the stores with you, it's important to remember that in winter your car turns into a refrigerator and leaving an animal in one is just as dangerous as leaving him in a hot car during the summer.

Arden also notes that dogs (like children home for the holidays) still need exercise and mental stimulation even on the worst days. So if your outdoor time is limited by the weather to a quick trip for life’s necessities, she recommends training games: 

“I highly recommend Operant Conditioning (clicker training) -- you can do several short training sessions each day. You can also teach your pet to play a child's toy piano, jump through a hoop, shake hands, etc. You can even set up a mini-agility course using chairs, etc. And you can teach your dog Canine Musical Freestyle steps which will be fun for both of you!”

Arden's cat has also learned some freestyle steps, so if your cat’s window ledge sitting is curtailed by storms, this might be one way to keep your other best friend from bouncing off the walls or shredding the furniture.