By Dr. Bruce W. Little
I woke up this morning to the tune of my telephone notifying me of an arriving text message. It was my daughter who lives in Northern Illinois near the epicenter of the Polar Vortex that’s currently spreading across much of the United States. She informed me the temperature in her area of the world was minus 24° F, with the wind chill factor taking that air temperature down to minus 54° F. Thus, I am offering my experiences from having spent 54 years in the veterinary profession managing dangerous winter-time temperatures while considering the health of our pets. Special attention must be instituted during these extreme weather conditions and trying times.
Call your veterinarian if you have specific concerns about your dog’s health.
Here’s some advice for taking care of dogs in the cold weather:
- Be patient with your dog when helping them find a new and safe place to use the bathroom
- Find a location nearest the house that you can remove the snow and ice from the chosen spot to make it appear inviting for your dog to use.
- Reward them if they follow your direction with a kind word and a pat on the head. Some dogs will do anything for a peanut butter snack!
- Purchase a sweater or jacket at the pet store to keep them warm while outside. Heavy coated or long-haired dogs may require a sweater type cover while short-haired breeds may require a heavier jacket.
- Booties for all four feet will work well; however, it may take several days for you to convince your dog that the booties are for their own comfort and health.
- Purchase a doggie ear muff at the pet store or simply cut the top out of an acrylic knit human stocking cap and place it over their ears.
- Trim the hair from between your dog’s toes so ice and debris doesn’t collect between them, making it difficult to walk and to cause sores from rubbing or chewing on them.
- Keep a towel near the door to wipe feet and underbelly after going outside. Towel your dog off thoroughly each time they come back in the house. If chemicals are used to clear the snow and ice from the sidewalk or driveway, wash your dog’s feet and belly in warm water to rinse the chemicals away. Dry thoroughly after washing.
- Use multiple methods to entertain your dogs inside by chasing a thrown ball or toy and giving them extra attention during their weather-related confinement.
- Use high caloric dog food to help keep body temperature at a normal level; however, one must be careful not to feed too much since the activity level is reduced.
- If you choose to let your dog use the garage or other enclosed facility to run in or use as a bathroom facility, take care to remove all opened containers that may hold gasoline, paint, chemicals or antifreeze products used for melting ice and snow. Keep all garbage containers tightly covered and secured.
Winter weather can be treacherous for our pets; however, a few precautions and adjustments to routines can make those days more bearable for both the pets and the family members as well.
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