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When you peer out the window of your home and see fluffy white flakes of snow floating down from the sky, you may think about how beautiful it is.  However, it is also a good time to consider whether or not you’ve really prepared for your dog to handle the harsh conditions of winter weather.  Between the dropping temperatures and the snow on the ground, winter conditions need to be considered even if you and your pet are staying in for a warm snuggle beside the fireplace.

One thing you might want to think about doing when the weather gets colder is taking your dog to the vet for a preventative exam.  Cold temperatures can aggravate medical conditions such as arthritis.  Cold can also be dangerous for dogs with diabetes, heart or kidney disease, or hormonal issues as they might have a more difficult time regulating their body temperature.

Your pet’s age, breed, body type, coat, etc. can also present issues to be aware of.  For instance, some owners may assume that cold-climate breeds such as huskies are tougher in winter weather.  However, just because they are more tolerant of the cold and snow doesn’t mean they can’t suffer from hypothermia or frostbite as well.  When it comes to age, very young and very old dogs may be sensitive to extreme temperatures and older dogs with motor issues can slip and fall on icy sidewalks.  Other examples related to body type and coat are dogs with short hair that have less protection from the cold and snow and dogs with short legs that can have their bellies come in contact with snow on the ground.  For dogs with traits such as these, you might want to buy a nice warm coat (or a few of them to make sure you always have a dry one handy) or even some well-fitting booties to protect their paws. 

Being outside in the cold can be just as dangerous for your pet as it would be for anyone else in your family.  It is best that your pet stay inside in the winter to avoid the risk of frostbite or hypothermia.  Before going out, make sure that your dog wears a collar which isn’t loose or prone to slip off, and that the contact information on their tags and microchip is up to date. Should your dog get loose, snow and ice can conceal scents and therefore make it harder for your beloved pet to find their way home if they are lost.  When you take your pet outside for walks or any other reason, keep a close eye out for any symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia. Frostbite can affect exposed areas of skin such as the nose, ears, and paws, and can appear as swelling, blisters, or discolored skin. If your dog is hypothermic, they will shiver, their breath will be shallow, and they may display a weak pulse or lethargy. If your dog shows signs that they want to go back into a nice warm house such as whining or looking for a comfy place to burrow, bring them back inside so they can get warmed up. 

While you and your dog enjoy your walk, you should also keep an eye out for other dangers. Be careful for antifreeze spills, and don’t allow your dog to eat snow so that you avoid any stomach upsets or poisoning from what might be in the snow. Don’t allow your dog on frozen ponds or lakes, as ice may be thin and they may fall through. If you have to go in and rescue them, you may be in danger as well as a result.  When you come back from a walk during the winter, you should always examine your pet.  Look at their paws to verify they aren’t cracked or bleeding, and try to keep ice from building up between their toes by trimming any fur there where snow and ice might accumulate.  Wipe them down when they come home to dry them off and remove any possible chemicals such as deicers or antifreeze which might have gotten on their fur as they walked through the snow. If you think your dog is showing symptoms of frostbite, take them to a vet as soon as possible to make sure they are safe.

Even when you and your pet are warm and cozy in your home, there are still things to be aware of.  Make sure that your pet has comfortable places to sleep.  Place your pet’s bed away from any drafts and give them the option to change their location should they want a different level of warmth. Also, always check any heating sources for any threat of fire or of possibly burning your pet. 

You might be tempted to let your pet gain a little weight to give them some warm “padding” for the winter months.  However, that extra weight can be unhealthy for your pet. Conversely, you might cut back on their food portions to prevent weight gains from inactivity.  The solution is to carefully maintain your dog’s caloric intake so that they get the right amount of food to compensate for the extra energy they will use to combat the cold. Any pet who spends time outside in the winter will need more calories to fight off the cold.

Keep in mind that your pet is not the only one to watch out for. Before you start your car, check under your hood or make noise so that any stray animals which may have tried to warm themselves on your engine won’t be harmed when you start your car. If you see any homeless pets who might need help in the cold, perhaps you can provide them with protection from the elements as well as food and water.  If you see other pets left out in the cold, you may want to speak with the owner to keep their pet from possibly suffering harm.  If the owners aren’t receptive, make sure to get photographic or video evidence if you decide to call animal control.

As always, common sense is the most important thing when it comes to protecting your pet from the cold and the snow in the winter. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog. Are you bundling up? Then you should probably bundle up your dog. Think about how cute your dog will look in an ugly Christmas sweater, a furry coat, or little booties. Your pet’s safety in winter weather can not only be a requirement, but also a great opportunity for funny photos to share with your friends and family as a reminder how enjoyable winter can be.

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