Provide proper shelter, warmth, food, water, and exercise for dogs and cats during the winter months. While some dog breeds are better equipped to survive the winter outside, all dogs have basic needs to meet in order for them to survive the cold winter months. With the winter season quickly approaching it is time to think about pets that spend a majority of their time outside. Dogs are pack animals and should be considered a part of the family. It is my opinion that if the dog is going to spend it’s life in the back yard or in a pen or worse yet at the end of a chain, then what is the purpose in owning the dog? That being said, there are always going to be outside dogs and these dogs need special care during the winter months.
Temperature – If the temperature drops below freezing, please bring the animals inside, whether they are cats, dogs, rabbits, whatever. If its below freezing and the animals do not have proper shelter they could freeze to death. (I’ve seen it and it’s not pretty). If the animals are absolutely not allowed in the house then consider setting aside a special place for them to winter in the garage or a barn. If they are in the garage keep in mind that animals are also susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Arctic breeds – Many breeds of dogs can be traced back to the arctic, in some ways these breeds are going to be better equipped to handle the cold weather because they will have a thick undercoat to act as insulation. I can not possibly name all the breeds that can be considered arctic but some include: Samoyed, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Husky, Alaskan Malamute, American Eskimo Dog, Akita, Finnish Spitz, Norwegian Elkhound, Shiba Inu, Chow Chow, and Black Russian Terrier. Owning an arctic dog does not mean you do not have to provide a warm shelter. These dogs need shelter during the winter too.
Shelter – If you own an arctic breed of dog it will still need a warm shelter to retire to. This shelter should be sturdy, with a floor. The floor should be 1 – 2″ off the ground. The cold ground can literally suck the warmth out of your dog’s body. By elevating the floor of the shelter and building the walls so that they touch the ground, you leave a pocket of air under the doghouse that can act as insulation. The roof can be peaked and shingled. Size matters,. Your doghouse walls should be 1 ½ times longer then the dog and 1 ½ times taller then the dog, measuring from the ground to the shoulders. If the doghouse is made too big, the air inside will not fully warm and the dog will use a lot of energy trying to stay warm.
Warmth – All animals that are going to spend the winter outside need warmth. I know some dog owners who keep their dogs outside and provide wonderfully for them. Most of these people own hunting dogs or are very active and spend a lot of time with their dogs. These dog owners are over achievers and have heated doghouses Heated doghouses are definitely the way to go for outside dogs but take care not to use portable heaters as a heat source. They can burn your pet or start a fire. Bedding will also be needed. Straw and cedar can lead to allergy problems so I would stick with rugs and blankets that can be laundered. If the temperature drops and your pet is shivering then it is time to come inside. Older pets of any breed are more at risk for freezing then younger pets. Older dogs also suffer with arthritis which can be more troubling during the winter. Watch for frostbite, usually on ear tips, tail, and foot pads. Symptoms to look for include: ice on the body, shivering, affected tissues become red, then pale, then black. Seek help from a veterinarian if you suspect frostbite. Some short haired breeds or companion dog breeds lack an undercoat and will need a doggy sweater if they are going outside for any length of time. Longer haired dogs should have the coat trimmed around their paws so ice and snow does not collect around the toes and pads. The coat should be brushed daily and checked for mats; a matted coat does not insulate as well as a healthy coat.
Food and Water – During the winter an outside pet may require more calories in order to maintain a healthy weight. It takes more calories to stay warm so watch carefully, take your pet to the veterinarian for weight checks if necessary. An older dog or cat will not be able to withstand the cold as well as a younger animal so especially watch for weight loss in senior pets. Water should be provided in plastic bowls and kept ice free. If your water dish is metal the animals tongue could get stuck to the side. Remember being told not to stick your tongue to the flag pole? Heated water bowls can be purchased at pet stores and on the web, try petsafestore.com.
Play and Exercise – Outside pets need to play and exercise during the winter as well as when it is warm outside. Many times owners become fair weathered and stop exercising their pets during the winter months. Don’t forget your furry friends during the winter, many health concerns can be found during play and exercise – watch how your pet moves, is it limping? Limping and slow to move from a down position to a standing position and vice versa, and a hesitancy to go up and down stairs could indicate joint problems. Many times joint problems can be helped with medications prescribed by a veterinarian, don’t let your pet suffer in silence. Also watch your pet for weight loss. Outside pets need a fat covering to act as insulation against the cold. Spending more time with your pet will allow you to notice changes in your pets appearance and the way it moves and catch health problems sooner rather than later.
Additional Information – Keep pets away from rock salt as it can burn their paws. If your pet does walk through rock salt, wash its feet with warm soapy water immediately. Keep pets away from antifreeze; a very small amount will kill dogs and cats. If you see your pet swallow antifreeze get it to your veterinarian immediately. The sooner treatment is started the less damage is done to your pet’s kidneys. If treatment is not provided your pet will die. Cats like to find warm places to curl up and nap. Unfortunately during the winter many cats find their way into the hood of automobiles. During the winter, hit the hood of your vehicle several times to wake and scare the animal from the engine. Let’s face it, cats live longer as inside pets. © Charla Dawson