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As the mercury plunges, we can take some steps to prepare our four-legged friends for the change in seasons to make sure they are warm and well taken care of. In order to keep our dog warm and safe through the winter months it is important to keep in mind their breed and overall health.
Puppies and geriatric dogs can be more susceptible to danger from the cold. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, endocrine disorders, or kidney disease can have greater difficulty regulating their body temperature and are also at increased risk. Outdoor dogs need to be cared for differently as compared to indoor pets, especially when it comes to diet/nutrition, exercise levels, housing/shelter, grooming and health concerns (arthritis, injuries).
Understanding the breed
Some breeds are more suited to cold temperature as compared to other breeds. Breeds with high tolerance towards colder temperatures include Chow Chow, Maltese, and English Setter. On the other hand, breeds with low tolerance towards cold include Doberman, Greyhound, toy breeds, and short-hair breeds. But even the ones who can bear low temperatures need shelter and warmth.
Keeping them indoors
A dog is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. Dogs are sensitive to severe cold and are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia during extreme cold. Exposed skin on nose, ears, and paw pads can freeze and suffer permanent damage. During the intense cold weather you should keep your pets warm inside the house. Take them for a walk during the sunny hours and avoid late evenings or early mornings.
Groom your dog well
Avoid excessive clipping of your pet’s coat, and the thick coat provides insulation against cold. It is important to maintain their grooming regime even in winter by combing out knots and brushing the coat thoroughly. Matted hair is less efficient at keeping them warm and insulated. Regular grooming also helps increase blood circulation and is great for overall wellness of your pet. Winter can be harsh for your pet’s paws as well. Apply a little petroleum jelly or paw butter to keep their paw pads soft and healthy.
Bathe your dog indoors
Fewer baths during cold days or skipping baths altogether is recommended. If essential, bathe them with lukewarm water instead of hot water. Hot water can strip off the moisture from your pet’s skin making it drier. You can also opt for dry bath, easily available in various salons. After a bath, make sure your pet is completely dry before letting him go outside. Bathe them during the morning hours so that they can soak up some sun and be happy playing and drying themselves in the sun.
Provide heating on cold nights
The best part about winter is doggie snuggles. If you like to be warm and fuzzy during winter, your pet also wants the same. On those bitter cold nights providing heating for your pets is a good option, especially for puppies and oldies. Hot water bottle or a heated dog bed can be feasible options.
Older dogs usually suffer from stiff joints during the colder months. Keeping heat in around their joints can greatly aid their comfort. Simple things can help, such as placing a thick blanket over the dog once they have settled down for the night. Heated or warm dog mats are available in the market. These are designed to keep young puppies warm and provide a gentle heat.
Take care of their diet
Pets who spend a considerable time outdoors need more food in winter because keeping them warm depletes energy. When a dog feels cold, he uses his own energy to keep warm. An additional 10 to 15 percent more food will help provide extra calories. Alternatively, adding fat can help to provide those calories. But it could also cause diarrhea or gastrointestinal disturbances. Talk to your vet about making the right dietary changes for winters. Avoid overfeeding, instead feed them after every few hours.
Check their water bowl at regular intervals to make sure the water is clean and not very cold. We strongly recommend pets should live indoors only with the family always.
Shorter walks and exercise sessions
A shorter walk will accomplish enough exercise and relief breaks without making your pet feel cold and uncomfortable. Even when you keep them indoors, exercise is important. Spend time running around and playing to keep them engaged and active. Playing indoor games – fetch, hiding toys, tug-of-war etc. ensures adequate agility. Old or dogs with joint or hip problems they may not be able to run, so just let them walk up and down the stairs.
Be careful with cars
Warm engines in parked cars attract dogs. They may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, take a quick look under the car or bang on the car’s hood to scare them away before starting the engine.
Protect them with canine clothing options
Canine clothing can help to keep your dog warm through winter. For small or toy dogs, dogs without long hair (for example, Whippets and Greyhounds), and old or sick dogs it is especially recommended. One of the indicative signs that the dog may need some clothing is if a dog is shivering. Pet clothing can help to provide some additional insulation. Make sure that everything fits well and that the dog is accustomed to wearing it.
The clothing should be removed when your dog is inside, unless the temperature in the house is very low. If a dog wears clothing all the time it won’t feel the benefit when it goes outside.
Guard against canine winter illnesses
Just like humans, dogs may also fall sick during the colder months. They can become sick due to prolonged exposure to cold. It causes stress and leads to immunosuppression making them susceptible to catching infections. Respiratory infections in damp climates, frostbite, and consumption of toxic substances are some of the principal concerns. Dog’s arthritis and osteoarthritis can be exacerbated by cold weather.
Josh Billings quotes, “A dog is the only thing on earth who loves you more than he loves himself.” Our canine friends offer unconditional love and loyalty. As pet parents we should keep warm and help them feel safe.
(Dr Ruma Devi, BVSc & AH, MVSc(Surgery & Radiology) is a private practitioner from Johrat, Assam)
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