We may have made it through a good chunk of winter, but the cold stretches ahead will be no walk in the park – especially for your dog.
The ASPCA has yet to lift its extreme weather watch for pet owners, and has listed a number of winter safety tips that conclude with a single piece of advice: “If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet.”
And although you may feel toasty under five layers, how do you know your dog isn’t cold?
Dr. Megan Kaplan, a veterinarian at BluePearl Emergency Hospital in north suburban Northfield, Ill., says dogs should be kept outside “no longer than five to 10 minutes” on days the temperature drops below freezing, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and advises owners to look for red flags such as shivering.
But cold temperatures are not the only concern. Chemicals used for ice control and prevention can also be harmful.
Some property owners may try to prevent and/or melt ice with anti-freeze solutions, which contain a dangerous chemical called ethylene glycol. Because it has a sweet taste that appeals to dogs, many may lick the anti-freeze off the sidewalk or off their paws – but it’s toxic to animals if ingested. And plain old salt, vigorously used on pavement to melt snow and ice, can cause both contact irritation such as chapped paws and stomach upset if ingested.
Protect the paws
For utmost protection against chemical agents, the ASPCA suggests applying a dollop of petroleum jelly to your pup’s paws before going outside, or using booties if your dog will tolerate them.
Additionally, a trip to the groomer is even more important in winter. Kaplan says that getting the hair between your pet’s paws trimmed helps clear away any harsh salts or ethylene glycol that may get trapped. “We don’t recommend extra-short cuts because the hair helps insulate them, but some (owners) keep it trimmed so it’s easier to clean off and it gives them a little bit of traction,” she says.
Avoiding the street and sidewalk is easier said than done. Kaplan suggests “walking (dogs) in more public areas” such as city parks, where peoples are less likely to have used chemicals.
Beach or backyard, Kaplan says the No. 1 rule for dog owners is to err on the safe side: “Treat them like a baby or a small child,” she says. “You wouldn’t leave those guys outside unattended.”