How to Keep Your Dog Safe and Warm This Winter

By Andrew Tarantola on at

You wouldn't venture nearly naked into the frozen wastes of your neighbourhood during the dead of winter just to use the outhouse, so why do you expect your dog to? This winter hasn't been nearly as intense as last year, but it's still a dangerous time of year for pets. Here are the tips and tech you'll need to keep your little buddy unfrozen until the thaw comes.

Keep Them Comfy

Just as you adjust your habits during the cold weather months—bundling up, going outside less, and eating more—so too should those of your pet. But how cold is too cold to leave your outdoor dog outdoors? Different breeds tolerate cold better than others; one husky's winter wonderland is a Class III Killstorm to a short-haired Chihuahua. The general rule of thumb, however, is any weather cold enough to warrant you putting on a coat should warrant your dog staying indoors. The ASPCA recommends bringing them in anytime the mercury drops below 7 degrees C, unless it's time for a walk or they're doing their business.

And, speaking of coats, don't go shaving your dog down to the skin during the winter. All that hair is there for a reason. The same goes for bathing your dog; do it too much and you'll strip the essential oils from their coat and skin, leaving them with a bad case of itchiness. So unless your pet has been rolling in yellow snow, keep them out of the tub. Be sure to regularly brush your dog during the winter as well. It not only helps remove dead hair and debris from their coat (keeping them cleaner), but the act of brushing also stimulates circulation to increase hair growth and oil production.

If the weather gets really bad, you might consider augmenting Bowser's natural insulation with a dog coat. No, a coat for your dog, not a coat for your dog made from another dog—that would be horrific and meta and horrifically meta. The three-in-one Trilogy Jacket from RC Pets can combine a separate lightweight waterproof windbreaker with a double-lined fleece vest to keep your dog both warm and dry. You might also look at the Zack & Zoey Nor'Easter Blanket Coat.

Keep Them Fat and Hydrated

Like people—and all warm-blooded animals really—dogs naturally burn more calories during the winter because their bodies need the extra energy to counter the colder environment. That means they're going to appreciate a little extra portion of food during the cold months. Obviously you're going to want to check with your vet as to how much you should give, especially if you pet is already on a specified diet.

Additionally, the cold, dry weather combined with central heating can quickly dehydrate your dog, so be sure to keep his water bowl topped off. And never use a metal feeding dish outdoors during cold weather. That frozen tongue scene from A Christmas Story is way less charming when it's your dog that can't unlick its food bowl and starts freaking out.

Constipation is also a surprisingly common issue for dogs during the winter. Not because of all the extra rich table scraps, but because of the decline in exercise that comes with the winter months. If your dog is having difficulty relieving himself because he hasn't been run enough, you can use canned pumpkin as a natural laxative for dogs. Use a teaspoon per day for terrier-sized dogs up to two tablespoons for large breeds.

Protect Their Paws

Winter roads are rarely the pristine lanes a Burl Ives album cover would have you believe. They're usually covered in the road salts used to melt snow, which can irritate your dog's paws faster than they'll rust through the frame of a DeSoto. Plus, with winter comes the annual topping off of radiators, which means there can—and likely will—be dribbles of poisonous antifreeze along your walking route. And though your dog may not be able lick it directly off the street, he can sure track it back to the house and lick it off later. While we can simply kick off snow and salt-caked boots at the end of a walk, our dogs don't have that luxury, so be sure to wipe down your dog's feet (along with the rest of him) every time you come inside using a dry towel.

In some cases of extreme cold, give your dog's paws an extra layer of insulation with a dab of pad wax. This stuff protects their paws from drying and cracking from walking over cold surfaces. Musher's Secret, and Nutri-Vet are popular options. And if you're going to be spending hours in the snow, invest in some booties for him as well. These four-footwear comes in a variety of styles—from the gag-inducing, fleece-lined Uggz for dogs (appropriately named Duggz) to waterproof, traction-enhanced hiking boots.

Keep Them Out of the Car

Folks only seem to harp on in-car pet safety during the summer, when a vehicle's interior transforms into an oven for pets left locked inside. But a car's interior can be just as dangerous for pets during the winter as well, quickly dropping to fridge temperatures when left unattended and actually remaining colder than the surrounding air for longer. This is very not good for a dog left in the car while you run errands. Either minimise the amount of time your pup is left unattended in a cold car or leave them at home, where it's warm.

For more winter weather safety tips, head over to the ASPCA or the Humane Society. And should an emergency arise, make sure you've memorized everything on this page.

Image: Shevs