It’s that time of year again. The wrong kind of snow has brought the country to a halt. But with the UK’s weather turning Baltic and the infrastructure buckling due to literally centimetres of snow, now is a good time to share some tips on Winterising your World Wide Walkies!
Our precious pups came skiing for the first time in the Italian Alps last year. It got down to -20, so we can claim a bit of experience in this area!
It is obvious that large dogs will manage better in colder temperatures, because of their greater body mass. Some, like Huskies, were, of course, bred for it. Huskies have a double coat. A waterproof outer coat covers a downy insulation layer.
However, we found it very difficult to find any information at all about the hazards of taking small dogs into a cold climate. So here is what we learnt about taking our PUPS ON PISTE!
Small dogs have little body mass to retain heat – but they do have a large surface area over which to lose heat, so they can get very cold very quickly.
Our Cavapoos have soft, long coats which are lovely to stroke. However, they are not bred to be the best ever for insulation or water resistance.
We are lucky. The Fab Four are good at communicating if they are too cold – they cry and ask to be picked up. If you see your dog shivering, whining, trying to burrow or he stops playing and becomes lethargic, he is probably too cold.
I am no advocate of doggie clothing for fashion, but for winter, a doggie jumper provides two benefits – an additional layer of insulation and coverage to prevent snow from balling up in long fur. Our UK dog coats didn’t work; they did not cover the belly adequately and snow quickly and easily got inside the coat.
After much research, we bought Equafleece Polartec fleece dog jumpers and can’t speak too highly of them! The jumpers are made to be a good fit and cover most of the dog, preventing snow from balling up on all but the lower legs, lower belly and backside (which have to remain uncovered to allow for calls of nature!) They insulate well and dry snow shakes off them, although if they do get wet, Polartec wicks moisture away from the dog and will still keep him warm.
As with humans, dogs can suffer from Hypothermia and Frostbite. (see footnote to recognise the signs*) Even if our furry friends are wearing coats, monitor their ears, paws, tails and noses, which are still exposed to the cold.
2. Winter Toxins
In winter, humans spread salt and antifreeze around a lot. Both can be toxic to pets. Anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) is sweet tasting but poisonous to dogs in very small quantities. Ingesting too much salt can cause dehydration and ultimately, organ failure. To safeguard against toxins being taken in when licking paws, rinse your tail-wagger’s tootsies and don’t allow them to drink from puddles or slush near roads.
3. Snow Removal
If snow balls up in your dog’s fur, it needs to be removed as soon as you get back indoors. We found the easiest way was to soak it off in a lukewarm bath or shower before a thorough drying. Only a fully dry doggie should be allowed back out into the cold.
I have heard suggestions that rubbing Vaseline or coconut oil into the fur on the legs helps to stop snow balls forming, but we have not yet tried this.
4. DON’T LEAVE DOGS IN CARS. EVER!
Cold cars are just as dangerous for dogs as hot cars in the summer. Don’t leave your dog freezing to death in a cold car!
5. Safety and Security
Our Rosie is a real escape artist – so snow piled up near a boundary fence would be too much of a temptation to escape to freedom! As it melts, heavy snow can slide off roofs and cause injury to dogs (and people!) – so beware what lies above.
When out walking, keep everyone close to make sure that they don’t do a disappearing act through an unsafe surface like a frozen lake or pond, which could be concealed under snow.
You might think that you’re safe from avalanches in the UK, but Britain’s most deadly avalanche happened in Lewes, East Sussex – not too far from the sunny South Coast!
6. Walk on the Sunny Side of the Street!
If it is very cold, try to walk during warmer periods of the day or when the sun is shining. We found that a few shorter walks or a walk and a play session were better than one long walk in freezing temperatures.
7. Alive & Well & Livin’ In…
Don’t leave pets outside in cold weather. Indoors, make sure that they have a cozy bed, not a cold, draughty floor to snuggle on. Our dogs are like heat-seeking missiles – so we make sure that they can’t burn themselves if they cosy up to radiators, heaters or log fires…
If you’re a fan of Intrepid Adventurer Bear Grylls, you will know that cold and altitude are very dehydrating – and it is almost physically impossible to eat enough snow to rehydrate adequately.
The same applies to dogs, so remember to take water even when you’re walking in winter. Indoors, extra heating might cause dehydration, so as ever, make sure that plenty of fresh water is always available.
9. Winter Feeding
If you don’t want a pooch with a paunch, make sure that their insulation comes from fur or their cosy winter jackets – not an unhealthy layer of fat!
Indoor dogs don’t need more energy to keep warm. In fact, if you are doing shorter walks, your dogs may actually need less food in winter, so adjust quantities accordingly.
10. Winter Grooming Tips
It was not just because we were in Italy that The Fab Four needed to look their best. Grooming is actually a very important winter survival tip!
A clean, well-groomed coat helps to keep your dog insulated. Although we rinsed the dogs frequently after walks, we rarely used shampoo. Shampoo can strip out the natural oils in the coat, which help to keep the dog warm. We made sure that everyone was dried thoroughly, especially before they went back outside!
A longer coat will provide more warmth. We found that a trim around the legs minimised clinging ice balls and helped to prevent matting under the dog jumpers.
We didn’t have any problems with dry, flaky skin. If you do, you could consider adding a skin and coat supplement to your dog’s food, such as coconut oil or fish oil. A humidifier (technical term for a bowl of water near a radiator!) may also help since cold, altitude and central heating can be very drying.
These are the precautions that we took to keep our dogs’ paws in tip top winter condition;
- Trim nails – this stops splaying, which helps to prevent accumulation of snow and ice between pads and improves traction.
- Trim fur between pads and around feet to prevent accumulation of snow balls in the fur.
- Paw Balm – protects pads from salt and chemical deicers. We applied Musher’s Secret every couple of days. It was brilliant and kept the paws moisturised – in a 3 month season, we had no sore or cracked pads.
- Wash & dry paws and tums after each walk to remove toxic, drying and stinging ice, salt and chemicals. Check for cracks in the pads or any redness between the toes.
- During the Walk – check and remove any ice balls which form between pads. Take a rag or towel to wipe salt off paws on longer walks.
- Boots – we agonised over boots. Much of the advice that we read said that dogs’ paws are adapted to cope with different temperatures, so boots are not necessary. And they don’t stay on.
We tried some boots. They did not stay on. They also caused the pups to slip when wearing them, so we gave up.
We took all of the above advice with their paws and when it was really cold, we did shorter walks at warmer times of day. In a 3-month season, we didn’t have so much as a cracked pad.
In conclusion; boots are more trouble than they’re worth!
We didn’t know how it would go, but our pups loved the snow – Rosie woke us up every morning asking to go out and play!
Take care, stay safe but most of all – ENJOY THE SNOW!
Hypothermia is when the core temperature of the body starts to drop. This is serious and can be fatal. The cause is spending too long in the cold, getting wet in the cold, especially if it is windy, or if a dog with poor health or circulation is exposed to the cold. Initial signs to watch out for are shivering, cold feet and ears leading to lethargy and signs of depression. Slow heartbeat and breathing rates and a lack of response to stimuli could indicate severe hypothermia.
Frostbite initially occurs when blood is pulled from the extremities such as the ears, paws or tail, back to the core to keep warm. Ice crystals can then form in the tissues and actually rupture and kill the cells. Like sunburn, frostbite is not usually obvious immediately, so look out for signs of pale or grey skin or the skin turning hard and cold. As frostbitten areas warm they can be very painful. Severely frostbitten areas eventually turn black and slough off. Remember that even a good doggie coat or jumper does not protect extremities like the ears, paws and tail.
Boots – we remain agnostic about boots. We had little success with them in our first year on Piste, however in our second year, temperatures got down to -27C and the pups quickly started limping and crying when we let them out for calls of nature. This revitalised the “To Boot or Not To Boot?” debate. If we could find boots that work, we would use them. If you want to join us in our research, you might find this a very useful article! Dogster – The Scoop about Dog Boots.
New Book – Pups on Piste!
For full details of our first season on the snow, why not check out my latest book, Pups on Piste – A Ski Season in Italy. Available worldwide on Amazon as both an ebook and Paperback.