Winter Storm Jonas rocked the East Coast last weekend, depositing more than three feet of snow in parts of Maryland and West Virginia, cancelling thousands of flights, and killing 14 people. People stocked up on food, booze, and blankets for the storm, preparing for power outages and power naps throughout the weekend.
My dog Henry has seen snow before, but not Jonas snow, not #blizzard2016 snow. When I took him outside to go to the bathroom, he hesitantly stepped off the deck and quickly did his business, barely able to move with both the snow that was falling and the snow that had already accumulated. Once we were back inside – shuddering at the thought of going back outside in a few hours and experiencing that again – he requested to learn how to use the toilet (and promised he would even put the seat down after he was done).
Although storms like Jonas are rare, winter conditions like dry, cold weather, freezing rain, sleet, and snow are not, and dogs get cold, too. It doesn’t matter if they have a lot of fur or if they’re big and strong – dogs also need and deserve protection from cold weather.
Here are 14 ways to keep your dog safe and warm during the winter:
1. Keep your dog warm and toasty. Cold weather can cause itchy, flaky skin – so the warmer your dog is, the less discomfort she will feel. As soon as she comes in the house, towel her off and remove any snow from her body and between her foot pads. Keep her cozy, warm bed (or if your house is like my house, your cozy, warm bed) away from all drafts.
2. Bring your outdoor dog inside. I’m sure you’ve heard If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet, but, for realz, it is. Don’t leave them outside; it’s cruel and inhumane and they deserve to be inside where it’s warm. If you can’t bring your dog inside, provide her with a warm, solid shelter against the wind and unlimited access to fresh water. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says, "The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment... Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire."
3. Don't leave him in the car. Did you know leaving your pet in the car - even for a few minutes when it’s cold outside - can be super harmful to your dog? Cold cars become like refrigerators and can quickly chill your pet so if you’re running errands on a frosty day, leave your dog at home.
4. Buy him a coat. If he’s a small, short-haired, short-legged, elderly, or sick dog, he needs a coat to help combat the winter extremities. If he’s long-haired, don’t shave him; let his long, fluffy coat keep him warm, but keep it clean and trim to minimize lingering snow and ice on his fur. Fortunately, there are so many brands and styles of dog coats that you’ll be sure to find something that not only protects your pup, but also makes him look and feel good. Check out our article on how to shop for a winter coat for your dog.
5. Buy her boots. When dog paws are exposed to the winter elements, they’re at risk for cracking, drying, and frostbite. What’s more, toxic chemicals like ethylene glycol found in antifreeze, coolants, and road salts are poisonous so if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, be sure to check between your dog’s foot pads to make sure she doesn’t track it into the house or ingest it. Like coats, there are so many different brands, colors, sizes, and styles of dog boots that you’ll easily find the perfect pair (with or without the fur). Check out our article on how to shop for boots for your dog.
6. Let her be stinky. Washing your dog too often can remove essential oils and increase her chances of developing dry, flaky skin. If she smells terrible and must be bathed, ask your vet to recommend a shampoo or conditioner that will be good for her skin.
7. Inspect your furnaces and heaters. Carbon monoxide is odorless, tasteless, and invisible, and since it can cause serious health problems to both people and animals, have your heating unit checked for any possible leaks or malfunctions. The Huffington Post also suggests keeping an eye on fireplaces, space heaters, and any other hot surface that your dog may snuggle up to for warmth. He can be burned if he gets too close, electrocuted if he chews through its cord, or start a fire if he knocks it over, placing himself, your entire family, and house in danger.
8. Keep her on a leash. While you never want your dog to get loose or run away, you especially don’t want to lose her in when it’s cold outside; she can lose her scent or blend in with the snow if she’s light-colored. To take extra precautions, make sure her ID tag is current and secure on her collar.
9. Keep him away from water. If you live near a pond, lake, or other body of water that freezes during the winter, be careful while walking him or letting him off his leash. Like people, animals can easily fall through the ice, and it’s very difficult for them to escape or be rescued.
10. Monitor his food intake. Indoor dogs are like people and bears during the winter: they hibernate, exercise less, and count the days until it’s spring. And since they sleep more and exercise less, they burn less calories You don’t want them to gain weight, so watch their food and snack intake. While indoor dogs need less food in the winter, outdoor dogs need more because it takes more energy to stay warm when it’s cold. Feeding your outdoor animal more and keeping his water bowl full can help provide much-needed calories and keep him well-hydrated throughout the winter.
11. Watch out for hypothermia and frostbite. When it’s cold, dogs are more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite, but familiarity with them can help keep your pet safe. Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that can result from extended exposure to cold while frostbite is a temperature related tissue injury that most commonly occurs on ears, tails, scrotum or feet. If your dog is showing signs of shivering, shallow breathing, weak pulse or lethargy, she may be suffering from hypothermia; if she’s showing signs of discolored skin (red, pale, or grayish) swelling, or blisters, she may have frostbite. If you suspect your dog has either of these temperature related illnesses, immediately take her to a warm, dry place and contact your vet.
12. Limit your walks. The less he’s outdoors, the less likely he’ll get hypothermia or frostbite or ingest antifreeze. And don’t let your dog eat snow, white or yellow; snow causes upset stomachs if ingested and can be covering hidden objects like the frozen bunnies that my dog found that broke my heart.
13. Be prepared. With Winter Storm Jonas, grocery store shelves were emptied of water, milk, bread, eggs, and lamb (yes, apparently lamb is a thing that people crave during blizzards), but I wonder how many shelves were emptied of dog food? Make your dog part of your disaster plan and ensure that he, too, has enough food, water, and medicine to last if you’re snowed in for a while.
14. Be an animal advocate. If you see a pet outside in the cold, politely let her owner know you’re concerned and see if you can help. If the owner doesn’t respond well or at all, The Humane Society suggests documenting what you see with details like date, time, location, and animal type and taking a video or snapping some pictures to help bolster your case. With your findings, you can then contact your local animal control agency or sheriff’s office to report animal cruelty or neglect.
Having a dog during the winter can be great, but in order to make the most of the season and have fun in the snow together, it’s important to keep your dog safe, warm, and protected. When you do, you’ll happily and confidently be able to build snowmen, make snow angels, and taunt him with hot chocolate he can’t have.
Image: Andrew E. Russell