Prep Your Pup for Winter Weather

Originally published in the Rolesville Buzz
February 2013

Looks like the cold weather is finally here and as you begin to adjust and prepare, so does your dog. And, just like in summer, there are some precautions and special grooming concerns every owner needs to know to ensure it’s a safe winter season for their best friend.

Many people ask whether it’s OK to bathe their pet during the winter. Yes, it’s all right. In fact, dogs sometimes need more grooming because longer, fluffier coats tend to mat, and walks through mud and snow are messy.

If your dog is indoors, you may be especially eager to bathe him and keep doggie odor to a minimum. Avoid problems by giving the bath, say, after breakfast and the morning nature break.

Bathe as usual, towel dry thoroughly, and keep the dog inside until completely dry. If you normally allow your dog to air dry, consider blow drying to speed the process. Between baths, or if bathing with water is inconvenient, try dry cleaning. Spray a dry shampoo or a little cornstarch on the dog’s coat and brush it through. Be sure to brush out the excess powder.

Some owners think giving their dogs a haircut will help reduce shedding. Shaving a dog can compromise the dog because it needs its coat to keep warm. It’s also true that most pets don’t live outdoors all the time; they’re usually snuggled up with an owner in a centrally heated house. So it is OK to trim their fur, but it’s always good to take into consideration the amount of time your pet will be spending outside in winter weather.

For untrimmed dogs, an extra-thick winter coat needs regular, perhaps daily brushing. Some dogs look their best in winter because the coat is so thick and luxurious, but it can mean more work for owners.

Keep your dog’s coat in top condition by brushing daily to remove tangles, dirt and dead hair, and to increase skin circulation and distribute oil. A dog’s winter coat can hide trouble, such as lumps, bumps or sores, which is another good reason to brush regularly. As you brush, feel and look carefully for signs of illness. Call your veterinarian if you see anything suspicious.

No doubt winter weather is tough on paws. You can minimize problems like cracked pads, irritation, and infections from snow, salt, mud, rain, low temperature, and gravel simply by wiping a dog’s feet dry after every outing. Keep a towel handy by the door, and make feet wiping routine. Be especially watchful for snow or mud balls between the pads. Thorough wiping also reduces but may not eliminate muddy paw prints in the house.

Periodically using a paw massage lotion to soften rough, dry, cracked paws can be both soothing and comforting to Rover. Another option is using a cloth or rubber booties. Some dogs accept these items gracefully; others try to chew them off.

Never leave your pup outside or in a car for extended periods. Wind chills can make cold days colder that the real temperature reading.  Many owners think if the car engine is left on, their dog will be warm and safe. Leaving the car engine running is still a carbon monoxide risk and can endanger your dog’s life. If you turn the engine off, the temperature in the car will drop, making your dog vulnerable to the cold.

Keep your dog warm and dry with sufficient shelter if you use a dog house. Straw is a natural bedding and good insulator. Plus, unlike blankets, which can become wet and freeze, straw does a good job with absorption and won’t rot. Even with the best doghouse, on those very cold nights, please bring your dog indoors.

Just as humans need more energy to keep warm and regulate their body temperature in colder weather, so do dogs. Change your dog’s diet to included additional calories, especially if it spends more time outdoors or is a working dog.

If, after reading all these tips, you think that going outside in the cold isn’t worth it, grab your canine companion, snuggle up on the couch under a blanket and put in a good movie.