Baby, It’s Cold Outside: How to Keep Your Dog Safe From the Deadliest Winter Dangers

December 29, 2017

Baby, it’s cold out there! It’s time to walk the dog, and you’re ready for the elements. You bundle up: extra sweaters, down coats, thick socks, boots, gloves, hat and scarf. But what about your pooch?

Winter brings its own list of hazards for our best friend. From frostbite to ice melts, your dog is at risk if he isn’t properly prepared. But don’t worry, we have you covered.

Read on to learn how to protect your pup from the deadliest winter dangers.

Hypothermia

Unless your dog is bred for cold weather (like the Siberian husky, malamute and Saint Bernard breeds), he needs a warm sweater or coat to prevent hypothermia – a chronic low body temperature that can ultimately be fatal.

Related: Thanks to Socks, a 17-Ounce Dog Was Brought Back From the Brink of Death

The initial sign of hypothermia is paleness and intense shivering, followed by lethargy and frostbite. If you see any of these signs, get your dog inside fast. Warm blankets on a radiator or in the clothes dryer, and wrap him up in them. Fill up a hot water bottle, wrap it in a towel, and put it against the dog’s belly (make sure to wrap it, or it may burn your dog’s skin). Give him some warm fluids to drink. When his temperature climbs above 100°F, remove the hot water bottle to prevent overheating.

Prevention. Dress your dog appropriately for the cold weather. Short-haired dogs require thicker protection, and if your dog is small, old, or sick, consider investing in a real down coat like the ones made by Canine Styles. Breeds like the greyhound need coats customized to their body shape like the ones by Blue Willow. Or try a full-body suit by Hurtta or Muttluks.

Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when the blood flow to the limbs, feet, and ears is restricted so the body can preserve its vital organs such as the heart and the brain. It happens more readily if your dog’s paws, ears or tail are wet.

Signs include discoloration of the skin (often a pale, gray, or bluish color), pain when you touch the body part, swelling, blisters and blackened skin. If you think your dog has frostbite, you need to get him to a veterinarian asap. In the meantime, the treatment is similar to hypothermia, except be careful not to rub the affected area. You can use warm water compresses, as long as they’re not too hot. Pat the area dry, wrap your dog in a warmed towel or blanket, and take him to the vet.

Prevention. To prevent frostbite, limit your dog’s time outside on wet, cold days. When he does go out, try a set of warm dog boots. They come in all shapes and sizes, but you’ll probably have more success with the more flexible kinds that don’t have hard soles. They come in waterproof versions and durable, all weather choices. You dog may walk at first like a dork, but as soon as he hits the snow, he’ll understand.

Ice-Melting Salts

The salt on the ground may be great for preventing humans from falling, but it is unsafe for your dog. It will irritate your dog’s paws and may damage the pads. You will often see your pup limping after walking in the salts. And when the ice gets stuck in the paws, it may cause redness, swelling, chapping and cracking.

Also, these ice-melting salts are toxic if ingested. When the salt gets stuck on the dog’s paws, he may lick them to get the salt off. These salts contain toxic chemicals like potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium carbonate and calcium magnesium acetate. Consumption of ice melts can be lethal. If your dog starts drooling, vomiting, or has seizures, get him to an animal hospital pronto.

Prevention. One of the best ways to prevent your dog from coming in contact with ice-melting salts is as simple as popping on rubber balloon boots. Pawz comes in sizes from Tiny to Extra Large. Dogs tolerate them better than other boots, because they can feel the ground through them. Yet, they can be a challenge to put on at first, so two people may be better than one.

If your dog rebels, and you can’t convince him otherwise, make sure to ALWAYS wipe down his paws when you get back inside. Even if you didn’t see any salt, wipe them off anyway. You can also try protective products such as Musher’s Secret Pet Paw Protection Wax, but you will still have to wipe off the wax when you get inside and then clean your dog’s paws with water or grooming cloths.

Lastly, if you are using ice-melting salts, consider buying the dog-friendly kind. A few brands that use a salt-free ice melt are Safe Paw or Morton Safe-T-Pet. However, some experts state these still can cause safety concerns. Another thing you can do is purchase ice-melting products, like Natural Rapport, that are colored, so you know exactly it is on the ground.

Related: This Company’s Latest Security Camera Let’s You Keep an Eye on Your Dog in the Living Room and the Yard

Antifreeze Poisoning

Dogs love antifreeze. It’s sweet and tasty. But never let your dog near it. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is a deadly poison. Even a small quantity ingested can cause kidney failure, and antifreeze is absorbed very rapidly after your dog drinks it. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, any amount from a teaspoon to a tablespoon can cause acute kidney failure.

That glimmering pool of green goodness often leaks onto the ground from a car’s radiator, but ethylene glycol is found in other substances besides antifreeze. These include windshield deicing agents, motor oils, hydraulic brake fluid and products like photography-developing solutions. But antifreeze remains the most attractive to dogs.

In the early stages of antifreeze poisoning your dog may appear drunk when she walks. Sign also include drooling, vomiting, twitching muscles, head tremors, rapid movements of the eyeballs, sedation, excessive thirst and urination. These signs will usually appear within half an hour to 12 hours.

Prevention. Always watch your dog when she is outside, and keep her away from puddles, discarded food and any green liquid substance. Keep the lid tightly closed on antifreeze containers, and store them out of your dog’s reach. Clean up any spills immediately.

If you suspect your dog ingested antifreeze, do not wait for symptoms to appear. The longer the chemical is in her body, the less chance your dog has of survival. Take your dog to your veterinarian or an emergency hospital immediately. The antidote, fomepizole, should be given within the first eight hours after ingestion, but the sooner it is given, the greater the chance of recovery.

Frozen Ponds and Lakes

From a distance the pond or lake in your neighborhood may look frozen, but the ice could be thinner than you think. If the ice can’t hold your dog’s weight, and he falls through, he could drown instantly. The cold will shock his system, and even strong swimmers may not last long. And if you try to rescue go after your dog, you may find yourself in need of rescue, too. 

Prevention. As tempting as it is to let your dog off leash in the park, if there’s a frozen lake or pond, don’t do it. You can use an extra-long leash that will keep your dog safely tethered to you.

If you dog does fall through, don’t’ go after him. If the ice isn’t strong enough to hold your dog, it’s not strong enough to hold you. Call 911 immediately. While you’re waiting, encourage your dog to get out of the ice on his own. Call to him. Offer treats or his ball. Your dog’s sharp claws may be able to hook into the ice. When your dog gets out, watch for signs of hypothermia.

Related: Tom Hardy, Casey Affleck and Edie Falco Lend Their Voices to Help Chained Dogs

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