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Winterizing your dog
by: Katie Ward

Fall marks the inevitable onset of winter and the time to prepare -- we haul out
the winter clothes, insulate our homes, gather up the boots and tune up our cars.
And, in the midst of all this preparation, don't forget that it's equally important to
winterize your dog. Whether you want to continue to walk your dog daily or just
let him enjoy a regular backyard outing you need to condition him for the winter
cold.

Snow, ice, and the typical chemicals used during winter all have the potential for
causing serious problems. Chemicals used to combat cold temperatures are
dangerous if ingested and contact with them can crack the pads on a dogs' feet
and dry them out. My fall dog catalogs list some products to use on snow and
ice that are guaranteed safe for pets. I would look into some of these if you're a
pet owner.

Snow and ice are dangerous because they can cut into the pads. You can and
should condition your dog's pads to stand up to these seasonal stresses. The
pads will toughen up some by walking, however, this isn’t the complete solution.
If you and your dog have been couch potatoes all summer, it will be necessary
to start a walking program gradually and extend the distance slowly and
reasonably. Do not start off by jogging as you will put too much stress on both
of you. Do stop along the way to take a look at the beautiful fall colors and
offer your dog a drink of water.

There are also products available to toughen and strengthen the pads and feet
of dogs. They are used when feet are sore from exercise. Some are especially
designed to prevent drying and cracking and may be used for elbow calluses.
One of the products is designed to shield your dog’s paw with a thin coat of
natural wax to prevent contact with road chemicals, hot sand, or cold pavement.
It is non-staining and non-allergic. Products like these are most often used by
owners of hunting dogs but certainly have a place in the average home.

Note of caution: Please do not think that you can substitute household products
for the above. You could make your dog very sick and cause serious internal
problems.

Get in the habit of checking your dog's feet for debris after a walk. Make sure
the pads are not cracked or dried out. Rinse the paws in some warm water to
remove any chemicals. Even if you don’t see any salt or sand on your walk, it
may be there and get into the area between the toes. It can irritate the delicate
skin, and if your dog licks its paws ingestion of the chemicals could cause an
upset stomach.

Fur in and around the foot should be kept well-trimmed. This is very important
in preventing snow from building up between the toes. For trimming I
recommend a couple types of scissors: surgical scissors which are quite small
and have rounded tips; bandage or nurses scissors which are angled and have
rounded tips. Both types of scissors are fairly small and lessen the possibility of
you accidentally cutting your dog.

Keep nails well-trimmed, this will help keep the quick back. When your dog
walks across the bare floor you should not hear his nails click.

Another suggestion for preventing some of these problems are dog boots. More
and more dogs are wearing them. You may laugh, but it makes a lot of sense.
Early boot models did not fit well and were quite expensive. However, in my
fall catalogs I've seen a wide variety that appear to be more adaptable to a
dog's feet. If you plan on going this route, I would suggest you purchase them
now to let your dog get used to them. My dogs adjusted in a fairly short time
because I was consistent in putting them on. Make sure that whatever you
purchase is easy to put on. Dogs don’t like to stand still for a long time while
you attach strange things to their feet.

In addition to boots, I’m all for coats, blankets, and sweaters for dogs. I think
they are suitable for small dogs, single-coated dogs, older dogs, and house dogs.
But wait for the really cool weather. If you are walking consistently, your dog
will build up a heavier fur coat and this will help. Common sense will tell you
when to start using a coat.

In the past, when ordering these items from the catalogs I've found that even
following their measurement instructions does not produce a properly sized
covering. This may have changed, but I think it’s simpler to purchase one
locally that you can try on your dog. If you’re handy with a sewing machine,
you can make one yourself. I took an old blanket coat for one of my dogs and
used it as a pattern for one of my other dogs. If you don’t have an old one, or
cannot find a pattern, check with your neighbors and friends.

Frostbite is a another common danger during winter. It can affect the toes, ears
and scrotum. Initially, the skin appears pale white but once circulation is
re-established the area becomes red and swollen and may begin to peel.

While all dogs are at risk, prick-eared dogs are very susceptible to frostbite.
And it only takes a matter of seconds for tissue injury to occur. To avoid
frostbite, do not leave your dog out for more than several minutes when
temperatures fall below zero. It is better to let them out several times for a few
minutes rather than making them stay out until they are done.

It is also helpful to shovel an area close to the door for your pets to use in the
coldest weather. We shovel down to the ground and keep the area clean each
day.

If your dog does get frostbite, soak the affected parts with warm water for
15-20 minutes or place the dog's paws in a bowl of tepid water heated to about
90 degrees. Do not rub the area. Simply pat gently dry. Keep the dog warm and
seek veterinary help since further treatment may be needed. As sensation
returns the dog may feel pain. It is necessary to prevent biting at the skin and
causing further injury.

Hypothermia is also a possibility with our extreme temperatures. This is most
likely to occur in dogs that have been in freezing water, even for a few minutes.
Dogs that do not have heavy coats may be more adversely affected.

If you suspect hypothermia, dry the dog off by rubbing vigorously with a towel.
Then, wrap a warm blanket around the dog and take its rectal temperature. If
the temperature is below 98.5 get to a vet or emergency service immediately.
Continue to keep the dog warm but avoid overheating. If you do not know how
to take your dog’s rectal temperature, take your dog toa vet immediately.

In closing, I’d like to suggest that you make an effort to keep your home as cool
as is comfortable. It is far healthier for you and your pets. It is said to cut down
on colds and it makes coming and going far less traumatic. Our pets are far
more comfortable and they shed less. Try and get out with your dogs each
week on mild days and take a walk or play in the backyard. They love to help
making a snowman or chasing a snowball or two, just remember not to overdo
it.

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