by Diana Colbert
If you live in a climate where snowy winters are the norm, then you know that winter is more than just beautiful snowfalls and fun times outdoors. Winter can be a dangerous time of year for us and our pets. Snow and ice can wreak havoc on them if we, as their caretakers, aren’t vigilant. Slushy or icy sidewalks and streets can be dangerously slippery. The temperatures are downright brutal, and the wind has a way of dragging the temperatures down even lower when it blows even just a little. On top of all that, there are specific dangers lurking around that aren’t usually of concern when the weather is sunny; when the days are long and warm. Because of these potential hazards, this article will focus on keeping our precious four-legged friends as safe as possible when the arctic winds are a’blowing.
Along with those festive looking snowflakes that winter so happily bestows upon us, comes the not quite as festive ice crystals that always seem to congregate on the streets and sidewalks. While this shimmery, glittery ice looks great on a holiday card, it’s not so great when you’re trying to walk on it. In fact, it can be downright treacherous. And if you’re in a reasonably populated area, chances are good that the surfaces have been treated with either a salt compound or some other chemical. Streets are commonly treated with calcium chloride or sodium chloride, and those compounds can be toxic to a dog who licks their feet (and who doesn’t?) As for your own sidewalks, there are commercially available de-icing products that are pet safe. Read the labels and make informed choices.
Even if you keep your dog away from areas that have been chemically treated, snow and ice alone can increase the risk of frostbite and dry out their paw pads, leaving their skin chapped or cracked. This situation makes walking and running quite painful. Also, snow can accumulate in between their toes and irritate the sensitive skin in those areas.
My dogs, Whiskey and Coco, love to stay outside for as long as they can, and I have to watch out for injuries to their feet. Just a few weeks ago I noticed Coco limping and sure enough I discovered she had little wounds on her paw pads. I had to put Neosporin on her foot and then cover it with a little sock. She wasn’t crazy about it, but the Neosporin helped encourage healing pretty quickly and helped with the pain, so I think she figured out what I was trying to accomplish. You can buy boots for your dog (or even your cat) but this could take an adjustment period before they are comfortable wearing them (if ever). Otherwise, be sure to wipe off your pets’ feet when they come inside to clear away any remaining snow, ice, or other debris.
If you’re taking your dog out for a walk, make sure you use a leash. A new blanket of snow can cover up the scents that your dog would normally use to find his way home if something were to happen causing him to become lost. Keep him safe and secure on a leash. And because the days are shorter and nightfall comes earlier, pay attention to the location of the sun when you go out for a walk (or in cases where the sun seemed to have disappeared for months at a time, just look at a clock.) Once dusk sets in, it’s harder to see clearly. Also, try to keep your walks short. Dogs are still affected by the cold temperatures and can experience frostbite and hypothermia, just like we can. Some dogs have a streak of fashionista in them, and love to sport their fuzzy sweater or fluffy coat, but not every dog will entertain the thought of wearing clothing. But it’s something to consider if your dog loves to be outside.
Symptoms of frostbite are a blue or gray discoloration of the skin. The skin can also look swollen, have patchy areas, or even show signs of blistering. Hypothermia occurs when body temperatures drop lower than what is considered normal. Symptoms of hypothermia are difficulty breathing, weakness, stiff muscles and sometimes a dog can even slip into a coma. If your dog gets frostbite or hypothermia, put them in a warm dry place and get them to the veterinarian as quickly as you can.
There are other winter dangers for your dogs, and not all are outdoors. There are a few things to look out for inside the home as well. If your dogs are like mine, they will walk right past their box of toys to find something more interesting to chew on. Keep anything that could present a danger to them out of reach. A few examples, based on my own experience, would be trash cans, dryer sheets, piles of laundry, houseplants, and open toilets! Also, if you have a space heater or a standalone humidifier, make sure it’s in a location where your dog can’t knock it over. Fireplaces are another area that you should keep your dog away from, for obvious reasons. Finally, don’t forget that there are dangers lurking in the garage, in case your dog has free rein of your home, try to limit their access to the garage. If your dog is a good chewer, they can easily puncture a container of antifreeze, the smell of which is irresistible to dogs. Unfortunately, antifreeze is deadly to dogs (and humans too), so please keep it out of reach.
Winter can be a fun time for you and your dog. A little foresight and preparedness can keep you both healthy and happy until the first signs of spring. Here in Pennsylvania, Spring means lots of rain, so much so that our backyard turns into a beautiful mud pit, making Whiskey and Coco very happy.
Diana Colbert lives near Pittsburgh PA Married with twins (son and daughter) who are 21 years old and still love to travel with their parents. She and her family have owned dogs and/or cats for most of their lives. She works in financial services and would love to live in Mexico someday.