Walking in a Winter Wonderland: How to keep your dog healthy and happy this winter.

December is almost upon us, and for many parts of the country, that means colder weather and maybe even snow! As you begin to prepare your house, your car, and yourself for the winter months, don’t forget to prepare your dog as well. Just as winter poses a host of challenges to us humans, it also challenges our pets. Snow and slush can cause coats to mat, salt and ice can harm tender paws, and low temps can make even the hardiest of dogs shiver. To help you and your dog weather the winter, DogWatch has put together some winter grooming tips. Check them out below, and let us know if you have any to add!

Coat care

Someone loves the snow! Photo by Andrew Bardwell via Flickr.Dogs with long coats require extra grooming in the winter. Many owners of long-haired dogs get their dogs’ coats trimmed during the warmer months, and as such, get out of the habit of frequently brushing them. Then in the winter months, as the coats grow back, they become tangled and matted, which not only looks unsightly, but actually prevents the dog from being able to properly trap heat with his coat, as mats do not retain heat. To keep your long-haired dog in his best condition in the winter, make sure to thoroughly brush him three to five times a week, checking for any tangles or mats and removing them. This will also prevent you from an expensive grooming bill when you have to get all those mats sheared off in the spring!

If the extra grooming is more work than you’d like, you can have your dog’s coat trimmed shorter for the winter as well; just make sure the groomer doesn’t trim it too short or remove too much of the dense undercoat, or your pup won’t have adequate protection from the cold and the elements. Your best bet would be to tell the groomer to leave the coat at least an inch or two longer than usual. Also, consider getting a sweater or jacket for your dog, which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this post.

For dogs with short coats, regular grooming is also a must, as the drier air dries out their skin and causes them to shed more. Brushing your dog three to five times a week will keep his coat clean, shiny, and healthy, and stimulate and distribute the natural oils his skin produces to prevent his skin from drying out, and prevent your furniture from becoming a fur repository.

Skin care

As we mentioned above, dogs’ skin, like ours, tends to dry out in the winter. There are several things you can do to help prevent this:

Peaches gets a faux-hawk during her bath. Photo by Augie Schwer via Flickr.Shampoo your dog regularly
Dogs need to be bathed in winter months as well, not only to remove dirt and snow and debris, but to keep their skin and fur healthy. We recommend shampooing at least once a month with a moisturizing shampoo specifically formulated for pets, and following it with a conditioning rinse (also formulated for pets). Do not use human shampoo on your dog, as it can be excessively drying due to the difference in the pH levels of human skin and canine skin.

Deep condition
If your pup’s skin is extra dry, consider giving him a deep-conditioning treatment, much like you would with your own hair. Apply the conditioner, and then wrap your dog in a towel to keep him warm while the conditioner penetrates and does its job. Rinse off after five minutes, and thoroughly towel- or blow-dry your dog. NEVER let your dog run around with wet fur in the winter months, particularly outside! NOTE: If you chose to blow-dry your furry friend, make sure to only use the cool or low setting, and keep the dryer at least six inches away from his skin to avoid burning him.

Consider a humidifier
Many people run humidifiers in their houses to keep their own skin from getting overly dry in the winter; the same principle applies with dogs as well. The more moisture in the air, the less dry both human and canine skin becomes. Many stores have great sales going on right now, so you should be able to score a good deal on a humidifier. If that’s not in your budget, you could place bowls of water in various rooms in your house; as the water evaporates, it will humidify the air. You can tell how dry the air in your house is by how quickly the water evaporates, and that will provide a gauge as to whether you need an additional humidifier or need to put out more bowls of water.

Paw care

Pretty pup in his winter coat and boots. Photo by Yolanda via Flickr.Proper paw care is essential for dogs that go outside in the winter. You wouldn’t go walking outside barefoot in the wintertime, and neither should your dog! As they’ve become domesticated over the years, dogs’ paws aren’t as tough as they once were, and so extra precautions need to be taken in the colder months. Salt and ice can scrape and cut your pup’s paws, and snow can ball up in between his toes, making it difficult to walk. Here’s what you can do to help keep your dog’s feet in tip-top condition:

Keep nails trimmed
Dogs’ nails get naturally worn down in the warmer months by walking on concrete and other hard surfaces, but in the winter, these surfaces may be covered in snow and ice, so you’ll need to stay on top of trimming your dog’s nails. Nails should be as short as possible without hitting the quick (the darker, pigmented part of the nail), and should be trimmed with a proper dog nail trimmer; never use scissors or human nail clippers on your dog! If your dog’s nails are too dark for you to see the quick, and/or you are nervous to trim them for fear of hitting the quick and causing bleeding, you can take your dog to the groomer or your vet, both of whom are trained to properly cut nails without injuring your dog. If you DO trim your dog’s nails yourself, make sure to invest in a jar of styptic powder, which you can apply topically to stop bleeding should you accidentally cut the quick.

Trim hair between toes
While it’s understandable to think that having extra fur between the toes will help keep your dog warmer, it can actually be problematic. Common in dogs with long and/or curly coats, toe hair can pick up balls of ice and snow that may cause irritation or even injury. To prevent this, routinely trim the hair between the toes, and remove any extra long and stray hairs. Many groomers will do this for you as well.

Protect the pads
Dogs’ paws are naturally thick and leathery and offer some protection against hard surfaces and the elements, but winter weather can be too much for many puppy paws. Salt, sand, snow, ice, and de-icing chemicals can cause dry paws, cracking, irritation, injury, and even infection. Whether your dog is a Great Pyrenees or a Pug, we strongly advise prepping its paws every time you go outside. You can do this by applying a balm like Musher’s Secret that forms a protective coating over the paws, protecting them from direct contact with harmful surfaces or chemicals. When you get back inside, make sure to thoroughly clean off your pup’s paws to remove all traces of the balm and any debris or chemicals your pup may have picked up on your walk. This will keep your dog from licking his paws and potentially getting sick, and will also keep the paws dry and warm.

Another viable option is to invest in a pair of doggie boots. Many sizes, styles, and colors are available, and they’re the quickest, easiest way to keep your dog’s feet safe. Some dogs want nothing to do with them, however, so if you buy a pair, make sure to find out the store’s return policy, just in case! Many stores will take them back, provided they’ve only been worn inside and are not dirty or damaged.

Coats and sweaters

A French Bulldog in a coat: doesn't get much cuter than this! Photo by Jussi Linkola via Flickr.The topic of clothes on dogs can be a divisive one, but winter is one time when we believe doggie outerwear to be absolutely justified. Small dogs, dogs with short coats, and breeds from warmer climates simply do not tolerate the cold as well as larger dogs, dogs with thicker/longer coats, and dogs from colder climates. Investing in a nice sweater or coat can help you and your dog enjoy your walks more by keeping him warm and dry, and preventing him from potentially getting hypothermia.

Diet

Some dogs may need more or different food in the colder months. Check with your vet to find out if you need to make any changes to your dog’s diet.

Anything we didn’t mention, or any additional suggestions on how to keep your pup protected this winter? Please comment below — We love hearing your feedback!

Sources:

Grooming Your Dog in the Winter: FetchDog

Winter Footcare: FetchDog

Winter Grooming Tips: DogTopics.com

Photo credits, top to bottom:

Andrew Bardwell via Flickr

Augie Schwer via Flickr

Yolanda (annrkiszt)via Flickr

Jussi Linkola via Flickr

2 Comments on “Walking in a Winter Wonderland: How to keep your dog healthy and happy this winter.

  1. Great article. I have a St. Bernard that really misses the snow (currently living in Austin, TX but relocating to Colorado in 2012)! We adopted a new rescue dog that will definitely need paw protection and a coat t0 keep warm up north.

    • Our apologies for the late response, but thanks Jennifer, glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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