Here are a few tips that I like to keep in mind when bringing my dog outside during the winter months.
- Watch the Road Salt. This is really the only annoyance I have with winter conditions. When I am walking or running my dog, Walden, I occasionally have to cross from trail to road. Sometimes the roads are absolutely covered in road salt to help melt ice and snow. I understand the necessity, especially because people’s safety is at risk. However, it is important to be careful of your dog’s feet as they walk on this salt. Some dog’s feet are really irritated by the salt, especially if they walk on it for miles and miles. It can damage skin as well as clump up with snow and be very uncomfortable for your dog.
- Bundle Up. If your dog does not have a thick or double coat, it may lose a lot of body heat while it is outside. If your dog is a breed that is really not made to be out in the cold (think Greyhound or Chihuahua) you may want to consider a jacket to avoid uncomfortable situations and/or hypothermia. It is also important to say that dogs that normally reside outside in a doghouse may be better served inside your house during these cold months. This is a good rule, but coming from Maine, I do understand that there are exceptions. I know a Husky that is owned by some friends in Central Maine that, despite all of my efforts, always chooses to stay outside during the night. She will come inside to eat and hang out with me for a while, but come 9:00 PM, she is always scratching at the door to go outside and snuggle up in her doghouse along with her other Husky pals. One time, out of curiosity and concern, I went to see just how cold the dog house was at night. Surprisingly, the dogs had made themselves an insulating igloo and were nestled next to each other so that the house was noticeably warmer than you would expect. While I would not recommend this situation for most dogs, I understand that some of the breeds that were made for snow simply prefer outside over inside, no matter what time of the year it is.
- Watch the Weight. Nope, I am not talking about Christmas cookies, although those are probably not great for your dog! Some dogs stay inside the house much more during the winter months. Because of this, many dogs are less active during the cold months than they are during the summer. If dogs get fed the same amount of food throughout the year, this can result in weight gain during the winter due to a sustained amount of food with less activity to burn calories.
On the other hand, if your dog stays active outside during the winter, you have a different consideration to make. With hours spent outside in cold weather, dogs without a thick coat will have to spend more calories to make heat. If your dog has a thick coat, it will insulate itself well, but may still use more energy to maintain a steady body temperature. In this case, you may need to feed your dog a little (or a lot, depending on how long your dog is outside) more food in order to maintain their body weight. If you do not supplement your dog with additional calories to burn for heat production, you may notice weight loss in the winter due to your dog’s fat stores being used to make up this caloric deficit and generate heat.