Last week I wrote my column about natural home remedies for fleas and ticks. Even though the weather is getting colder, pet parents still need to keep those little pests in mind. Cold weather preparation for dogs is vital, especially for dogs that live outdoors all the time. Outdoor dogs need special care all year round, whether their shelter is a dog house or an outdoor kennel.
The weather here in Maine can get pretty extreme. Winter months can be brutal, and pets that stay outside all year round can suffer if their shelters are not properly prepared for the cold temperatures, strong winds and large quantities of snow. Even indoor dogs need extra care during winter months.
If you live in a region where temperatures drop below freezing in the winter, there are a lot of precautions that you can take to keep your Fido safe and warm. Dog houses and outdoor kennels can be equipped to keep out the cold, snow and other elements. There are also products on the market that can assist you in cold weather preparation for dogs.
The first thing you need to understand is how cold is too cold to leave your pet outdoors. Yes, there are some dogs that are left outside year round. That's not the best option for them though. According to Dr. M.A. Crist, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, indoor pets that are not acclimated for cold weather should be kept indoors as much as possible when the outside temperature drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
In this article on the university's website, Crist offers a lot of information for pet parents about preparing their dog for the winter months.
- “Determining what temperature is too cold for your pet can depend on many different factors, from fur thickness and length to body mass. This makes it hard to determine an exact temperature that could be dangerous to your pet's health,” explains Crist. “However, it is clinically accepted that indoor pets that are not acclimated to cold weather should not be left outside when the average daily temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.”
You also need to take your pet's age, size and breed into consideration when deciding whether or not it is safe to leave him outside in the winter. I found some great information about this in a very unexpected place – in the Indian Trail High School and Academy's Online Newspaper. This article, by copy editor Shayna Frost, explains:
- It is also important to take into consideration the breed and age of the dog to determine how safe it is to leave it outside for prolonged times. For example, Husky dogs enjoy the snow and their breed can endure extreme cold, so they will be able to be left outside for longer periods of time without harm. Smaller dogs and short-haired dogs, such as Chihuahuas, are more vulnerable to the cold. Elderly dogs and puppies are also more prone to suffer in winter conditions.
If you're going to keep your dog outside all the time, he'll need a proper shelter. Whether you choose a dog house or an outdoor kennel, the shelter will need to meet certain specifications. If you're going to buy the shelter, you need to be sure it meets these requirements before you purchase it. If you are able to build it yourself, that will actually be a better option.
Building an outdoor shelter for your dog (or having someone help you build one) will ensure that he has exactly what he needs. The Humane Society of Utah has a very easy to read article on their site that explains how to build the ideal outdoor dog shelter.
- The ceiling should be 2-3 inches taller than the tallest part of the sitting dog. The interior should provide 36 square inches of floor space for every inch of the dog's height, from the point of his shoulders to the ground. (Example: a dog 20″ tall needs 720 square inches of floor space, 20″ X 36″ = 720 square inches.)The shelter should be protected from the wind, with the door facing east or south. The entrance should be off-center so the dog can curl up in the corner, protected from precipitation and drafts.
If your dog already has a sufficient dog house, you will need to make it warmer for the winter months. This can easily be done with a few supplies from your local hardware store and a couple hours of work. doityourself.com, a very popular site for DIYers, has some great tips for pet parents who want to keep their pups warm in the winter.
- Every dog house needs an opening so the dog can enter. However, there needs to be something over this opening so cold air and snow won't come in. A piece of carpeting cut at least 4 inches larger than the opening on all sides will seal the cold air out. Place the carpet over the opening and, at the top, staple it with the staple gun or nail it in place.
It's not just your pet's house that you need to consider. It will take a little more work to make sure he has food and water during winter months too. If you live in a climate that gets below freezing often, you should consider a water bowl heater for your pet.
In Maine, and many other places, there are a lot of days in the winter that stay below freezing all day long. If a dog is outside all day, his water will be frozen in a matter of minutes. Obviously, you may be able to provide fresh water a few times per day, but you can't be out there changing his water once every hour. A water bowl heater is the only way to be certain that your dog has a fresh supply of water at all times.
The website for The College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University has some great information about how you should feed your dog in the winter. Did you realize that your outdoor pet needs to eat more in the winter months?
- Nutrition is a particularly important concern. Outdoor pets require more calories in the winter to generate energy to ward off the cold. As a result, add 10 to 15 percent more to its daily diet to allow it to meet those needs. Another way to meet cold weather calorie requirements is by adding some fats to their regular ration. Be careful though, fats can lead to diarrhea and dehydration if too much is added.
Indoor dogs are also susceptible to the harshness of winter. When temperatures are low, just a few minutes outside can have negative effects on your pet if he is not properly prepared. Dr. Marty Becker wrote a blog for vetSTREET all about cold weather preparation for dogs.
He definitely explains the importance of a good shelter, but he also talks about ways to help your indoor dog, who may not be as acclimated to the cold temperatures, snow and ice. It's important to protect your pet's feet and fur from the elements in winter, and Dr. Becker explains some great ways to do just that.
- Every winter it’s with regret that we clip the fur off our little Quixote’s adorable fuzzy feet, but those long hairs between his pads make it easy for ice balls to form. But even for dogs who don’t have Quixote’s problem, protecting the feet with boots isn’t a bad idea. For small indoor dogs the boots keep feet warm, but for all dogs in snow country boots can protect them from the toxins found in some deicing formulas. Even if you put boots on your pooch, I’d still recommend cleaning his feet when he comes in, just to be safe.
Cold weather chemicals are also something that you should be mindful of in the winter months. There are certain toxic products and harmful chemicals that are used often during cold weather, and they need to be placed in a secure area where your pets can't get to them. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has a great site that offers pet parents a lot of useful information on everything dog – not just dog training.
They have a great article about winter safety that touches on winter grooming, winter outings with your pet and how to keep your dog safe in cold weather. They give examples of toxic chemicals and the negative impact that they can have on a canine.
- Antifreeze – Ethylene Glycol, car antifreeze, is a deadly poison and has a sweet taste that appeals to dogs. As little as 1-2 teaspoons can be lethal to a small animal. Clean up all spills and consider switching to a Propylene Glycol product that is safer.
Ice Melters – Salt and ice-melters can act as a skin irritant. Make sure to wash your pet's feet off after coming indoors. Dogs with long fur and /or short legs should have their stomach areas cleaned off as well.
Obviously, the greatest concern in the winter is keeping your dog warm. There are a lot of products on the market that can help you do that. The blog thriftyfun gives some great tips for scoring these types of products for reasonable prices. She has thrifty advice for winterizing your dog's house and keeping other pets warm in the winter as well.
Electric blankets, which will definitely keep your dog warm, are discussed in this blog.
- The electric blanket keeps the bed at just the right temperature for them on a cold night, and doesn't cool off over time like a hot water bottle would. It only costs pennies a day to keep it on. And the blanket on top holds the warmth in so they aren't warm on their bellies and cold on their backs. My babies love it.
However, although they may keep Fido warm, electric products like blankets, heaters and heated pet mats can also be dangerous. You can make your own decision, but I would advise a lot of research before you purchase a heating product for your pet. lovetoknow.com discusses the dangers of these products in their blog about caring for dogs outside in the winter.
- Avoid the use of radiating heaters or heated pet mats due to the risk of fire and burns. Bring your dog inside when the wind chill drops below 0°F degrees.
Just like in humans, illnesses are also more common for dogs during winter months than any other time of the year. Animals can suffer from a lot of the same conditions that humans can including hypothermia, frost bite and common colds. It is wise that all pet owners brush up on the signs and symptoms of the most common canine illnesses so they can keep a watchful eye on their dog.
The Healthy Paws Foundation has created an article that lists the five most common canine illnesses and the things you should be looking for to spot the early warning signs. If you suspect that your dog is under the weather, a quick trip to the vet should be on the agenda as soon as possible. Some illnesses can be nipped in the bud quickly with an early diagnosis and some can get progressively worse very quickly if not treated.
- Dogs are susceptible to canine infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as kennel cough for the way it spreads. Boarding facilities, winter temps, stress, and inhaling smoke all increase the risk of developing kennel cough. A bacteria and a virus are responsible for the condition, often both at once.
As a pet parent you have an endless list of responsibilities. Our canine companions cannot take care of themselves. It is up to us to make sure that they are safe, healthy and happy. Just like children, we need to understand their needs and what is best for them in order to provide them with the best quality of life possible.
Whether you have a dog that lives inside or outside, there are a number of things that you can do to make winter more enjoyable for him. If you've got some additional tips for cold weather preparation for dogs, please share them with us in the comments below. If you write a blog or you've read an article with some tips that I haven't listed, please share it below as well.