Toronto has a tricky climate. Because of our hot summers, many Torontonians have warm weather breeds. While breeds like Boston Terriers, Weimaraners, and Basset Hounds may be slightly more comfortable during a heat wave, they have a much harder time in the fall and winter months.
As winter approaches, we encourage you to think of ways you can help your dog weather the colder months. Here are our top ways to keep your dog warm this winter:
Invest in a dog coat and a sweater
For outside, choose a water resistant and wind resistant jacket for going in the snow. Remember that even if the temperature doesn’t feel too cold, if the wind is strong, it can really chill your pet. A simple acrylic sweater is not enough to keep your pet warm once the temperature drops. He needs a proper winter coat. If you are having trouble finding a decent one for your large and/or lean dog (I’m talking to you Greyhound owners), try Chilly Dogs.
Your shorthaired dog feels the draughts inside your house just like you do and he needs a sweater for lounging around the house. This is especially true for small dogs who are close to cold floors. Remember that puppies and older dogs get colder and dogs with arthritis are more prone to feel the cold. Try a heated bed for your arthritic dog and use all year round.
These boots are made for winter walking
Not only are toes are one of the most vulnerable areas for frostbite, but dogs regulate their temperature through the soles of their feet so protecting their feet from the cold starts with his feet. Ice and snow can also cause dry and cracked pads on your dog’s feet and boots are also less likely to slip on ice. Need another reason to make him cover those tootsies?
In the winter, there is not an inch of Toronto that isn’t peppered in salt. Salt and other products used to melt snow can seriously damage your dog’s feet, not to mention the fact that the salt will make your dog sick when he comes home and licks it off his feet. It’s a fact that dogs freak out when you put stuff on their feet. But this is one piece of gear that’s worth getting them accustomed to.
If the option of putting boots on your dog is just crazy talk, try keeping a bowl of warm water by the door. When you bring your dog in, give him a quick foot bath to melt ice balls that can cause frostbite and any de-icing chemicals he picked up on his paws. These will remove the irritation on his feet which compels him to lick.
Keep your dog groomed
Your dog’s coat provides natural insulation against the elements. Keep your dog’s coat brushed and free of mats and burrs if you want to keep him warm. Trim the hair between the foot pads to help prevent ice balls from forming as it’s these ice clumps that can cause frostbite. Regular grooming helps ensure proper body temperature during the winter months.
Feed them extra food
Dogs use up more calories to keep warm. If you slightly increase his caloric intake, he can work harder to keep his body temperature up.
Keep his bed warm
Your dog bed should be 3 inches off the cold floor to avoid draughts. Try a hot water bottle or a snuggle disk, which is a manufactured disk that is heated in a microwave oven and can maintain heat for hours. Make sure to supervise your dog if you suspect he’ll chew it.
Recognize the signs of trouble
If your dog is in the cold and begins excessively shaking or shivering, get him back to warm shelter as soon as possible. If you suspect your dog is developing hypothermia, bring him to a vet immediately.
Remember they are far more prone to hypothermia if they are wet. Signs of hypothermia include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Low heart and respiratory rates
- Difficulty breathing
- Fixed and dilated pupils
If you suspect your dog has hypothermia, warm him with blankets and contact your vet immediately. Hypothermia is deadly if not properly treated. Do not attempt to heat him with warm water or heating pads. If your dog does, in fact, have severe hypothermia, this process must be medically supervised as the body can go into shock.
Be mindful of windchill and frostbite
Windchill only affects living things. It doesn’t freeze water any faster when the windchill increases. As the speed of the wind increases, heat from a body is carried away faster.
Frostbite is injury to tissue that occurs when an animal is exposed to freezing temperatures accompanied by high winds. The primary areas that are affected include the feet, tail and tips of the ears.
Ice crystals can form in the body tissues, which can result in tissue death. Frost-bitten skin is red or gray and may peel off. Treat it by applying warm, moist towels to thaw the affected areas slowly, until the skin looks flushed. Signs of frostbite are: bright red skin at first, followed by very cold skin which hardens and becomes pale or gray. As the frostbite starts to advance the tissue dies, causing the skin to become black and start sloughing.
Use Heads Muffs for Dogs with Long Ears
Dogs with long floppy ears (you know who you are) are most at risk for frostbite. Basset Hounds in particular need care for their ears as they are so close to the cold ground when the dogs walks, ears can literally drag in the snow! Head muffs (a scarf that goes up over their ears) can provide some protection to these tender parts. Chilly Dogs offers nice polar fleece head muffs. You can also make your own from the leg of a pair of tights, children’s leggings, or even from panty hose. Remember that the most important things it to lift the ears up out of the cold and hold them close to their warm heads.
Don’t let him eat snow
There may be chemicals or objects hiding in the snow and it may cause hypothermia. Keep room temperature water in his bowl in your house.
Don’t stay out too long
I know we Canadians love the winter but unless you own a pack of Huskies, your dog just can’t handle spending hours in a winter wonderland. Even dogs with thick coats who historically have withstood colder climates do not necessarily have the resiliency you think he does. Even in the winter, our indoor companions never develop a thick undercoat sufficient for living outdoors. For his sake, limit the time you spend outside and remember to towel dry or blow dry wet fur when you come inside.
What are your tricks for keeping your dog warm?