Protect Your Dog from the Cold

Almost everyone has to change their lifestyle in the winter: we sleep under electric blankets, use extra moisturizers, and wear our warmest sock and scarves. All of this to keep ourselves safe from the cold, biting winds, and ice; we are even careful to maintain our vehicles, lest the salt buildup rust our axles or the antifreeze run low. After so much care to ward off the potential damage of cold weather, do we give thought to the needs that our pets have in the winter? A prevailing thought among pet owners is that their dog needs to keep his hair longer in the winter, which has definite merits. In fact, some breeds are so small and susceptible that they need winter jackets or booties for long walks. Your dog, no matter what breed, has winter-specific needs for warmth, comfort, and good overall health.

Letting a dog keep long fur is completely different from not having his or her fur groomed. Long fur that is well maintained can make the difference between a healthy dog and an unhealthy dog with a host of skin problems. Imagine for a moment, a man who grows a beard during the winter. Then imagine that same man not washing his face, or combing his beard and hair for four months. When spring time came around, the skin on his face would be so dry, blotchy, and raw that grooming his beard would be next to impossible even if he could get a comb through it. So the man has to completely shave it; bear in mind that he still will have an itchy and unsightly face once the hair is gone. This man would feel on his face the same way that dogs feel all over, who have been neglected all winter and then shaved down in the spring.

Unwashed, uncombed, and ungroomed dogs face sores, hot spots, and painful de-matting as the result of that long winter fur. The best way to avoid this altogether is a consistent grooming schedule with lots of brushing at home. Brushing improves circulation, and feels great for your dog. Having your dog bathed leaves the fur clean, and clean fur holds air much the same way that down feathers do; it traps air, insulating the animal, and keeping him warm. Dirty fur traps moisture instead, and moist areas collect bacteria. It only takes a minute of scratching or biting to tear open the skin, and allow the bacteria to enter the epidermis. These bacterial infections create hot spots and sores called moist dermatitis or eczema that usually require treatment with antibiotics and ointment. The area around these hot spots is usually clipped or shaved to let the skin dry out, which ruins all that beautiful long fur that you tried to save!

Sadly, some pet owners don’t care enough to look for skin sores. Only once the dog has been shaved or de-matted, either one an uncomfortable choice for a knotted animal, do these skin problems see the light of day. Grooming upkeep is ALWAYS easier, and cheaper!

If you do bathe your dog at home during the winter, remove knots thoroughly beforehand, and be sure to dry him very carefully after the bath. Again, avoid trapping moisture at all costs! For optimal health, your pet should breathe moist air and have dry fur. This dichotomy is the key to fighting winter weather. If your dog is well groomed but suffers from dry skin in the winter (like so many humans), consider using a humidifier at home, or supplementing his diet with skin conditioners or natural fish oils.

Other than dermatitis, the long winter fur creates a secondary problem when it catches toxic chemical ice melt from roads and sidewalks. Dogs with long fur on their paws and legs are at biggest risk, because the fur traps these chemicals; the salt makes the skin itch, and your dog will respond by trying to lick it off. The ASPCA issued a toxicity alert on ice melt in 2000, but most brands still use sodium chloride and calcium chloride. A lethal dose of sodium chloride is 4 grams per kilogram of your dog’s body weight. In small amounts, ingesting ice melt can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and increased water intake. In addition to having the hair between your dog’s pads is trimmed, you should always wipe his paws with a moist towel after walking on sidewalks or near roads.

Some dogs, especially older, arthritic, or short-hair dogs, should have limited time outdoors in cold temperatures. But for long-hair dogs and playful puppies everywhere, snow means playtime, and the formation of a hundred tiny balls of ice when they walk through the snow. These ice balls will happen within a few minutes, as our Cavalier Spaniel proved on her first snowy walk this winter. Five minutes of play time, and she was lowering her feet gingerly onto the ground. Ice balls hurt your dog’s feet, and are next to impossible to remove. Here again, the risk of having a wet dog running around your home because you couldn’t comb out all of that ice (and it melted). Your dog will be a lot colder with ice melting in his fur than he would be with the fur on his feet trimmed short. It’s a worthwhile trade.

dog-snowy-paws.jpg

Don't be like this little guy. He's going to be soaking wet!

So you know that it’s important to keep the fur clean and trimmed. But don’t forget the other grooming components that you could be sacrificing in the winter: clean ears and eyes, trimmed nails, and tooth brushing. You don’t have to sacrifice your grooming routine to stay warm in the winter! For great tips, check out the link below (Cold Weather Tips), or talk to your groomer.

Stay Warm <3

-Allison

Hot Spots on Dogs

http://www.petmd.com/dog/care/evr_hot_spots_what_are_they

Cold Weather Tips

http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_ColdWeather.php

Ice Melts

http://www.petparents.com/show.aspx/question/safe-ice-melt-for-dog-paws

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