"No. No way. Not
going out there."
"You are. You are not going to go on the carpet again."
"Oh, I am. Polar Vortex, remember? I could freeze."
"You won't freeze in the thirty seconds it takes to tinkle."
"Well, I might need to do both."
"You don't. I found what you did in the laundry room."
"Are my things still in the wash?"
"Too bad. Can't wait. And unless you can catch me - and we both know you can't - the carpet it is. If you hurry, you can put down a potty pad while I do my preparatory circle dance."
-As the conversation ends between myself and my dog, Coulter, I watch with squinty eyes as she departs - wishing I could in fact catch her - and as she trots victoriously away to her fav spot, I rush to put down a floor pad. Which she misses completely.
Coulter, like many dogs, does not
enjoy the cold and snow. And to be fair, nor is she adapted for it.
Coulter is one of seven New Guinea Singing Dingoes with whom I share my home -
and long suffering carpet. Singers, as they are more commonly know, are native to the rain forests of Papua New
Guinea, and while some captive specimens can acclimate and withstand colder
climates, that doesn't mean they like it. Mine have a particular
aversion, so we compensate with jackets, sweaters, doggles, hats, scarves and
boots. And since Coulter's winter wardrobe isn't quite dry yet, in
addition to doing dog laundry, I'll be cleaning the rug.
Joining the dingoes, I have a Tamaskan. Tamaskans are a recent breed, bred to resemble and possess the heartiness of wolves with the personality and biddability of a working breed. They were developed in Finland - frigid land of reindeer and Vikings - from a foundation stock of cold climate flock guardians, sled dogs and working ice field breeds. A key feature is a heavy winter coat and well furred paws and ears adapted for long exposure to extreme cold. Which my boy, Paladin, who weighs in at 90 lbs, has in spades. He's also a big sissy. Taking his cues from the dingoes, he, too, has developed a fondness for winter outerwear fashion.
Only D'Artagnan and D'Winter, the arctic foxes I co-own with Katie, Trainer at The K9 Spot, are embracing the cold. Because they're, well, arctic. At 3°F, they're just getting comfortable. While the dingoes hunker down inside under blankets, or Paladin, who's like a blanket, the foxes are outside in their habitat putting in a pool. In fact, we have to be careful with the foxes in the winter, monitoring them and their time indoors to prevent heat stress. The same can be true for dogs adapted for or already acclimated to cold weather.
Some would scoff at all this garmentry and fuss. Back when I just had wolves and northern breeds, I would have scoffed. Then fate gifted me with a puggle, and things got real. As is true for most small or brachycephalic (smushed nose) breeds, cold weather is a serious matter. So is heat, but if we get into that, what will I rant about for the summer blog? So we'll keep it chill. As in wind chill. Which small or brachy breeds can't tolerate for very long at all. Many small breeds lack undercoats, paw and ear furring, paw pad adaptation and even ability to accurately sense and regulate body temperature. Some bigger dogs with short coats fall into this cautionary category, as well. Frostbitten or cracked pads, noses and ears are common, as is hypothermia (when the body temperature falls too low), which can be a life threatening emergency. In extreme cold below freezing, all dogs need special precautions.
Winter outerwear, boots, paw conditioners/protectants, and limiting exposure are obvious and good ways to keep your dogs warm and prevent paw injuries or lameness. In addition to preventing pain or discomfort your dog might suffer, its much cheaper to buy $15 dollar boots or a $20 jacket and take an extra five minutes than paying to spend hours or days at the vet, or worse, lose your companion.
"Oh, c'mon, dogs have been living outdoors for thousands of years." Yep. And been dying of heat and cold related conditions the whole time, too.
Still, and despite what my delicate dingoes and Mr. Sissy Man think, dogs also don't need to spend every winter moment in front of a fire under blankets warmed to ever-just-toasty-so in the dryer. (Don't start the dryer blanket thing. No. Don't do it.) Dogs can and should get out for some fresh air. Some northern breeds prefer to spend time outside; like the arctic foxes, they can actually get too warm indoors. Sporting breeds like to get out, too, and many dogs need an outdoor exercise period to expend excess energy. (Apparently, mine didn't get the memo.)
For the outdoorsy dog in your life, that requires extended periods make sure an enclosed shelter with insulated flooring is available. Blankets on the ground or concrete aren't enough - use straw or a solid raised platform with bedding. The shelter must be such it keeps the dog dry, out of the wind, and off the ground, which pulls heat from the body very rapidly. Check and replace bedding often to make sure tracked in snow hasn't gotten it wet or caused it to freeze.
Speaking of freezing, make sure water is available and not only not frozen, but somewhat warm. Dogs need as much or more water in cold weather, but icy cold water can rapidly lower core body temperature, resulting in shock, hypothermia and even heart failure. Heated bowls and other products are available to help achieve this necessary requirement
Now that we have our dogs hydrated, let's consider winter nutritional needs. Most dogs, even small or toy breeds, undergo seasonal metabolic changes and need more calories or a different fat/protein ratio in winter months. That doesn't necessarily mean higher protein or more fat, and the wrong ratio could do more harm than good, even sicken your dog. Consult a nutritional specialist; The K9 Spot staff would be happy to advise you.
If your dog is a breed adapted for outdoor winter weather and hasn't fallen under the questionable influence of dainty, over indulged dingoes, he or she can probably fare just fine on active outings without the latest seasonal fashions. For them, paw and pad care is still warranted. And don't forget about the seasonal toxin hazards in the form of antifreeze and snow/ice melting products, which can be absorbed through or licked off paws in addition to being deliberately eaten. Use only those labeled safe for pets and be aware when out and about. Along those same lines, as the temperatures fall, mice and rodents take refuge indoors, too, leading home owners to put down poison baits that pose a risk. Not all poison baits are immediately fatal to rodents, and consuming animals that have eaten a toxin can also be dangerous for your dog. (If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, seek immediate veterinary help.)
Finally, Paladin would also like me to mention ice. Specifically, that it can be slippery. Hundreds of dogs are hurt every year in hockey or figure skating related accidents. Okay, that's made up (the skating part - ice is really slippery), but dogs can and do slip and fall on icy surfaces, which can cause broken bones, spinal injuries, dislocations and muscle or soft tissue tearing/damage. More often, they take off after a squirrel, go tearing across an ice patch and injure their handler. Which can end outdoor fun and get them sent to time out, right Paladin? Pal reminds all dogs reading this article to be mindful of the other end of the leash and remember to take all necessary seasonal precautions with their humans when out and about in the cold - even if there's a squirrel. Remember, too, that dogs can't judge frozen ponds or lakes, and a plunge through thin ice could be deadly. At best, it's embarrassing, especially if the squirrel you were chasing sees you. The good news is that with a little thought and preparation, winter can be a fun but safe (and dignified) season for all.
From all of us here at The K9 Spot,
Fleas Navidad and Yappy New Year!
Please be sure to check out our Winter Safety video airing Live on Facebook Dec 22nd, 2016. If you have questions about the topics covered in the article or need help ordering food or winter safety products, please ask any of The K9 Spot staff and they'll be happy to assist you.