9 Important tips for dog owners during the winter
When it is snowing and cold, there are some things to keep in mind as a dog owner. In this article, we provide useful tips and advice for you and your dog this winter.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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9 useful tips for dog owners
1. Use reflectors
As dog owners, you can make sure both you and your dog can be seen easily on a walk. There are lots of useful high-viz items available to buy for you and your pets. Reflective blankets, collars and collars with lights will help your dog to be seen more easily.
2. Dressing for the weather
Keep you and your dog warm on walks. Think about the length of your dog’s coat. Perhaps you can ask the groomer to leave it longer or not get them clipped as often? Do you have a puppy, a small breed, like a Chihuahua, a toy terrier, a short-haired dog or a very lean dog, such as a Whippet or Greyhound, dog with a thin coat or an older dog? These individuals typically feel the cold more than other dogs. See if they will tolerate wearing a coat. Try to ensure that their coat stays dry. Put on their coat just before going outside. Long haired dogs may actually be cooler with a coat on because their hair traps air, which helps to insulate and keeps them warm. Squashing their coat down may not enable so much warm air to be held within the hair.
Some dogs need training to get them used to wearing a coat. You can start by rewarding them with treats the first few times you put their coat on. Some dogs refuse to move once they have a coat on. This may be because they do not like the feeling, or it affects their natural movement. Try scatter feeding so that they have to move around to find the treats on the ground. Use this technique each time their coat goes and they should soon be happy to wear it. Don’t forget to reduce their food portion or take the treats out of their food allowance.
3. Be careful of spilled ethylene glycol (antifreeze)
Washer fluid and coolant used in cars often contain glycol, also called ethylene glycol. Glycol tastes sweet and is something that pets like to lick. Even a small amount can cause severe poisoning and the death of the animal. Read more in our article here.
4. Do not leave your dog alone in a cold car
The car quickly gets cold when it is switched off. If the dog sits still for a long time in the car, it can quickly become cold and their body temperature will drop very quickly.
5. Be careful with road salt - rinse and dry your paws
With the risk of ice, and snow falling, the roads are salted. Salt dries out the skin, causing cracking, and it can start to sting the paws. Therefore, be sure to rinse or wipe your dog’s paws when you come home from a walk. Do not forget to dry thoroughly between their pads.
6. Snow and ice
Dogs can slip and hurt themselves on icy surfaces so check the ground before releasing your dog, especially near frozen ponds or watercourses. Make sure your dog has warmed up their muscles before releasing them to avoid sprains and strains.
Older dogs, especially those with joint pain (osteoarthritis), can struggle more in the cold, damper weather. It may be best to go on a leash when it is most slippery outside. If you are concerned that your dog is slowing down or seems painful, please contact your vet or make an appointment with one of the FirstVet vets to discuss this. Make sure that older dogs do not slip as this will cause discomfort; try to keep their nails and the hair under their feet clipped short. You can also read more about Canine Arthritis Management here.
If it is snowing outside, dogs can easily get compacted dirt and debris, or compacted ice and snow, between their toes. If the dog has lumps of snow in their fur, or on their legs and paws, it can be easily removed by rinsing with lukewarm water. Do not forget to dry your dog thoroughly dry afterwards. Try carefully clipping the hair between their toes, if needed, to stop grit and ice accumulating.
7. Cold paws
In winter, some dogs can get sore paws from prolonged contact cold ground. Dogs may refuse to walk while lifting one or more paws in the air. If the dog gets a cramp in several paws at the same time, they may even fall over. Warm your dog's paws in your hands and massage gently. If the dog is small, you can lift it up and carry them, and maybe tuck your paws under your jacket. If you have a dog that often suffers from cold paws, it can be good to be content with short walks these days, use booties, or play games with them indoors instead.
To help your dog stay warm indoors, try moving their bed a little closer to a radiator. Take care to check that they don’t overheat! Ensure that they sleep in a draft free area with a thick blanket to provide extra insulation. You could invest in a pet Snugglesafe or a heat pad that can be plugged in at home or in the car.
8. Continue to have fun together - both indoors and outdoors
There are of course lots of fun things to do with your dog during the winter. Many dogs enjoy playing in the snow. Embark on a wonderful winter walk with your dog. Think extra about exercising your dog outdoors if you know that you will be staying indoors for a longer period during the day. If it is really cold outside, it can be good to come up with some form of indoor activities. Here are three games to get started:
- Find the food - this game teaches your dog how to use their nose and to start thinking about searching for things. When your dog is out of the room, start by placing one or two treats in a room, in full view, then call in your dog. Your dog will find and eat the treats, and then start looking for more. Repeat the process on a different day but make it a little bit harder for them. Start by placing them out of view, or in less obvious places. Vary where treats are hidden and what treats are used. Try hiding a KONG occasionally too, or playing the game outside, so that they have to walk around more whilst searching.
- Pick the Hand - for this game you will need a treat that is tasty and strong smelling; chicken or turkey, or even a very small bit of cheese may work better than their normal food. Put a piece in the palm of your hand and make a loose fist around it. Offer your dog your fist and say “find it”. Let them sniff, and when they sniff your hand, offer them the treat. Repeat this a few times. Then make it a bit harder by having both fists present but only a treat in one. Move your hands from side to side and then ask your dog to “find it” without letting them see which hand you put the treat in. When they sniff the hand containing the treat, reward them by opening your hand and giving them the treat. Once they understand the game, you can add in friends and family members. Start by adding one person at a time, and keep it fun for your dog.
- Pick the cup - this game builds on the skills that your dog learnt during the ‘pick the hand’ game. Use four dog-friendly plastic beakers or containers that cannot be knocked over easily. Ask your dog to sit in front of you whilst you place one of them on the floor. Put a treat underneath one cup then move it back and forth. Then ask your dog to “find it”. If they sniff the cup, reveal the treat and let them eat it. If they knock the cup over, that’s fine. Next, add a second cup, move the cups back and forth, and then say “find it”. Wait until they sniff the right one before praising and lifting the cup. Repeat with two cups until your dog is consistently picking the correct cup. Then you can add more cups to make the game more challenging.
For more advice about how to make your dog’s day interesting and fun, you can visit the Dogs Trust website.
9. Adjust the amount of food according to the dog's activity level
Don’t forget that dogs may be exercising less during the winter months, or not as active as normal. Consider reducing their calorie intake, or portion sizes, especially if you also use food games and training treats to keep them entertained.
Still have questions?
At FirstVet, you can always get help with an initial assessment of your animal. Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.