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Winter Pet Care

by Belinda Recio

Dogs truly know how to play in winter weather. Anyone who has watched a dog leap over, pounce into, and tunnel through drifts of snow can’t deny that our canine companions make winter look fun. But we need to remember that even though dogs are covered in fur and appear to be happy frolicking about in the snow and ice, they can still get cold or injured by winter conditions. Just as importantly, some of the materials we use to make winter safer for people are unsafe for dogs and other animals. So here are some facts and tips to help you have a safe and enjoyable winter with your dog.

If your dog spends a lot of time outside when you aren’t home, be sure he has protection from the wind and precipitation. Provide a doghouse with straw bedding or a pet door access to a mudroom or garage with a soft bed. When temperatures are very low, never leave your dog outside without any shelter (or in the car) for more than a few minutes.

Snow and ice can get stuck between the pads on your dog’s paws. This icy build-up is known as “snowballing,” and it causes a dog’s body temperature to drop faster, so try to limit your time outside if you notice any snowballing. Having icy paws also reduces a dog’s traction on slippery winter surfaces, so if you are hiking, you need to make sure your dog’s feet can still handle the terrain. You can reduce snowballing by keeping the fur between your dog’s toes neatly trimmed. (You only need to trim the fur that sticks out from in between the pads. Leave the rest to keep his feet warm!) Another snowballing prevention trick is the use of a barrier wax, such as Musher’s Secret.

Ice-Melting Chemicals
Try to avoid walking on roads or pathways that have been treated with unsafe ice-melting chemicals, because these can damage paws. Do not let your dog lick snow or ice treated with these chemicals because it can make him sick. On your own property, use only pet-safe ice-melt. After walking in the snow, if you think your dog had contact with any ice-melting products, wash his pads with water as soon as you arrive home. Throughout the winter, periodically check your dog’s paws for cuts and scrapes. If his pads are cracked or rough, consider using a barrier wax product that you can rub on paw pads and between toes to prevent further damage from salt, chemicals, ice, and snow.

Playing Catch
Throwing snowballs for your dog to catch is fun and great exercise, but try to limit how many snowballs you throw if your dog starts eating the snow.  A few too many swallowed snowballs and your dog’s temperature will drop and he might even need to throw up some of that icy water!

Take your dog for a walk in the woods after a heavy storm and look for tracks. Point them out to your dog and he might start following the tracks. My dog sticks his snout deep into each deer track, then lifts his snow covered muzzle (with that “Got Milk?” look) for a half a sec before inserting it into the next track. He will repeat this for as long as I’m willing to continue following him. It’s amusing enough to cure the winter blues.


Musher’s Secret
Developed in Canada for use with sledding dogs, Musher’s Secret is a dense, barrier wax that forms a breathable bond with your dog’s paws. The semi-permeable shield is absorbed into the paws, allowing perspiration to escape through the toes. You can spread Musher’s Secret up in between the pads to prevent snowballing. Made from a blend of several food-grade waxes, Musher’s Secret is a safe, non-toxic way to protect your dog’s paws. musherssecret.net

Safe Paw Ice Melter
Gaia Enterprises Safe Paw Ice Melter is 100 percent salt-free and is guaranteed pet- and child-safe. Safe Paw has been used and recommended with confidence for years by veterinarians, animal hospitals, groomers, shelters, and humane societies. It was recently awarded the PTPA Green Product Seal. safepaw.com 

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