Vet Gives Advice for Dogs in Winter
Katie Beiser holds up her right hand and points to the tip of her pinky. “This is the go-to map of Michigan, and this is where I was working before moving here.” Having spent time with Dr. John Kuck at Willits Veterinary during her fourth year of veterinary school during spring ski season, Dr. Beiser became hooked on our valley. Accordingly, Dr. Beiser recently joined Willits Veterinary. Since Michigan is arguably colder than Colorado, and since Dr. Beiser loves hiking and snowshoeing with her two rescue mutts, Roaring Fork Lifestyle recently asked her advice about dogs and winter sports.
Lifestyle: Do owners need to do anything special for smaller breeds like terriers and chihuahuas before going out on snow adventures?
Dr. Beiser: Know their limits. A lot of people think that because our pets have a built-in fur coat, they can tolerate the cold better than us humans. But most pets live indoors with us, and they have become accustomed to our warm shelters and cozy blankets. Pay attention to your dog’s outdoor behavior. If you notice your dog whining, shivering or appearing anxious, if he stops or slows down and appears to be looking for a place to burrow, it’s probably time to go inside and warm up.
While smaller guys can enjoy the outdoors just as much as big dogs, we need to be careful we don’t push them too far. Keeping them warm with functional (and usually adorable) sweaters and jackets can help. Don’t leave them outside in the cold, and make sure your dog has access to some form of water while outside. Although some dogs love to eat snow, it’s not an adequate substitute for fresh water.
Giving older dogs a joint supplement such as glucosamine and fish oil can help lubricate joints and ease the discomfort of arthritis. Cold weather can be especially difficult for our senior buddies with degenerative joint disease.
Lifestyle: When does a dog need a sweater?
Dr. Beiser: Dogs with a thin or shorter fur coat, little body fat, or dogs in poor health are particularly vulnerable to cold. A good winter jacket should reach from the neck to the base of the tail, while also protecting the dog’s belly. Never use a wet or damp sweater, as this can actually make your dog colder.
Lifestyle: What’s your advice about preparing a pooch’s paws for outdoor adventures in winter?
Dr. Beiser: Trim long hairs between toes to prevent ice and snow balls from forming between their pads. If your dog’s paws are dry and cracked, you can apply coconut oil topically as needed to help moisturize. I make a simple four-ingredient wax to protect my dogs’ paws.
Booties can be great for protecting dogs’ feet from the chemical used to melt snow and ice, if you can get your dog to wear them. If your dog won’t wear booties, be sure to rinse or wipe your pet’s feet, legs, and underside after walks. Don’t let your dog lick his/her feet because they can ingest these chemicals following treks around the neighborhood or town.
Lifestyle: How can you tell if your dog is getting hypothermia or frostbite?
Dr. Beiser: Frostbite, in dogs and humans, occurs when the body is forced to conserve heat, pulling blood from the extremities to the body’s center. The dog’s ears, paws, and tail are the most vulnerable, but frostbite isn’t always immediately obvious. Watch for pale or gray skin; it may (or may not) become firm, waxy or form blisters. Remember how painful it feels when your frozen toes defrost; dogs feel this pain too, when frostbitten areas warm. Severely frostbitten skin may eventually turn blank and slough off.
We see hypothermia most often when dogs are left outside for too long. That can happen if they have to tolerate cold temperatures when wet, or have poor health or circulation problems. As hypothermia progresses, dogs can appear lethargic, weak, or depressed. Their heart and breathing rate will slow down, muscles will stiffen, and they may not respond to external stimuli. Severe hypothermia can become life-threatening in a hurry.