When to winterize man’s best friend

18 11 2008

Because of their head-to-toe fur coats and the fact that they are descended from the hearty wolf, many pet parents assume that their dogs are immune to the chill of winter. But today’s domestic canines are a far cry from their lupine ancestors, and for many breeds, a trip out into the cold feels very much like it would for you in your birthday suit.

Of course, the doggy definition of potty training and your furry pal’s need for daily exercise means you can’t eliminate outdoor excursions altogether during the winter months. But since dogs can’t speak up and ask for a venti hot chocolate whenever the mercury drops, it’s up to you to know when and how to winterize your pooch.

dog sweater

Does your dog need protection? Arctic breeds like the husky, malamute, Akita, Samoyed, jindo and chow chow obviously thrive in the cold, as do mountain breeds like the Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard and Bernese Mountain Dog. Shepherds, collies and hard-coated terriers like the Airedale and the Westie are also reasonably well equipped to ward off the chill.

Some breeds, on the other hand, need a little help staying warm. Any breed with well-defined muscles, little fat and a short coat is going to catch a chill very easily. Boxers, greyhounds, pitbulls, Dobermans and whippets are all highly sensitive to the cold. More than anything, pay attention. Like people, dogs shiver when they get too cold—this is a sign they need additional protection.

The most important part of keeping a dog warm is insulating their core; everything from the neck to the shoulders down the back to the hips should be covered. On a cold, dry day, a well-made sweater will do the trick. In a storm, or if your pooch likes to romp in the snow, opt for something waterproof, like a jacket or parka.

Your dog’s feet can also be a cold weather hotspot. Be sure to keep the fur between the paw pads trimmed to prevent snow and ice from accumulating there, and check the paw pads frequently for signs of injury or frost bite. Some dogs also are sensitive to the deicing chemicals used in many cities. If your pooch’s feet look red or raw, consider providing some protective booties.

Any time the air temperature drops below 40 degrees, bring your “outside” dog inside. Remember, modern dogs are the result of hundreds of years of selective breeding, not wild animals that are able to cope with the elements. If it’s too cold for you to stand outside in a sweater or light jacket, it’s too cold to leave your dog out there for any length of time. Have a heart, and bring them inside.

Finally, in the winter months you should make absolutely certain to keep your pooch on a leash any time you go outside. Snow and cold dampen smells, making it much more difficult for dogs to sniff their way home if they get lost. Also, cold days and even colder nights make even a few hours away from home far more dangerous in the winter than in milder months.

From bounding through the snow to biting icicles off the fence, winter can be a great time to be a dog. With a little knowledge and the proper preparation, the coming winter will be a safe, fun and even stylish time for the whole pack.

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