With trees and gardens remaining bare, winter can sometimes feel like an eternity. Yet while some enjoy the colder weather, since you can “wrap up” cosy (unlike the impossible task of trying to avoid the summer heat), many of us still can’t seem to escape the “brrrrr” temperatures!
So, with the cold UK weather, what can you do to help keep your dog safe and comfortable during this time? Here are some tips to help you take extra care of your furry friend this season.
Firstly, check on those frosty paws. After a brisk walk outdoors, make sure to check your dog’s feet. Pay particular attention to icy or snowy surfaces as ice crystals and snow clumps can accumulate between your dog’s toes, causing hard, uncomfortable matts of fur and debris.
Brush or rinse off any ice you see. If your dog has a lot of hair between their toes, keep it trimmed or shaved short during the winter months. Also, remember to regularly examine the pads of the feet. Just like our heels, they can crack and bleed in the colder, drier months. If this happens, a good quality paw balm will help soothe those sore paws.
Next, check the “undercarriage”.
Just like ice can accumulate between the toes, dogs can also accumulate ice or snow on the fur around their armpits, chest and belly. Consider wiping these areas down after a walk.
In many towns and urban areas, councils use de-icing salt, known as grit, which lowers the freezing point of water and prevents ice from forming in the cold temperatures. Unfortunately, this can stick to their fur and irritate the skin and paw pads. Therefore, if you notice that grit has been spread on the ground, give your dog a rinse with warm water when you get home. If the grit is left on the fur or paws, your dog may lick these areas and irritate them further or ingest unhealthy quantities of salt.
There are several different types of grit which may be used, and some contain toxic ingredients. These can cause serious harm to your dog’s internal bodily health if they ingest them. As well as that, grit salt is not purified nor regulated, and therefore is far from the safety of your regular table salt.
The next tip is to always be prepared.
When you’re heading out and there’s the potential for the weather to take a turn for the worse, have an emergency kit with you at all times.
If you’re taking the car, it can be as simple as packing a few extra blankets and keeping some water with you. Easy to remember, but just as easy to forget! So, it’s worth always keeping these in your car. A spare blanket can be extremely useful to wrap up your dog in after a walk in the damp or snow, as if your dog gets wet, they will require significantly more energy to heat themselves up again. A snuggly blanket or towel will help them achieve this.
If the temperature plummets, stay inside.
If it’s so cold that after only a few minutes you feel chilled, then your dog will most likely feel it too! Dogs bred for colder climates, like huskies and malamutes, may be able to stay outside for a longer period. However, even they have limits on what they can stand should the temperature drop.
Luckily in the UK, we don’t suffer EXTREME freezes like other parts of Europe or the US, where minus 20 Celsius can be a common occurance during winter. Nevertheless, short-coated breeds like dachshunds, Chihuahuas, boxers, and pit bull terriers get cold very quickly. Even more so do single coated breeds, such as Yorkshire terriers, who lack the soft, downy undercoat which grows close to the skin to provide insulation. So, if you own one of these breeds, invest in a warm jacket for them because they NEED it! Jackets don’t have to be used exclusively for walks either. If you’re reluctant to ramp up the heating, or your dog sleeps in a cooler room of the house, a jacket will help them keep a little bit warmer in the night too, as they’re not walking around so much. They can also be beneficial to keep old, creaky dogs warm, as arthritic joints have the tendency to seize up in colder climates. Just remember, if it’s too cold for you, then it’s too cold for them.
Next, ensure your dog has an identification tag and monitor them closely when out and about.
Cold temperatures, and snow in particular, can mask the odours that dogs usually pickup when they’re out.
If you get separated from your dog when visibility is low, he or she may have a tough time finding their way back to you. So, make sure the identification tag on their collar or harness is up to date with your current contact information. In the UK, the Control of Dogs Order 1992 mandates that all dogs in public spaces must have a tag on with the owner’s name and address. Telephone numbers are also extremely helpful too.
In addition to a suitable identification tag, it is also a legal requirement since 2016 for all dogs in the UK to be microchipped. This will ensure your dog can be reunited with you should they become lost. Nevertheless, microchips must also remain updated with current contact details to be useful. It is possible for microchips to slip into a different position or stop working, so remember to ask your vet every year at your dog’s annual check-up, to scan the chip to check is working and still located at the back of the neck.
Finally, keep a check on your dog’s winter weight.
Truth is, many people feed their dog MORE during the winter months, believing that an extra layer of fat may keep them warmer and more comfortable. However, this isn’t a healthy way to keep them warm.
Any extra weight they put on in the winter will have to be taken off during the spring: and this is a lot of work! Aside from that, the extra weight could put your dog at a higher risk for stiff joints, and health concerns such as diabetes, all of which decrease their general comfort and wellbeing. Instead, just share with them a few tasty (but low calorie!) snacks or bites from their regular kibble as “treats”.
By following these easy tips, you can be sure to keep your canine friend comfortable this coming winter
This blog has been verified by an expert Vet