Winter is on its way and if we can feel it, no doubt so can our dogs.We are now heading into the cold time of the year where night temperatures hit super low numbers like 2’s and 5’s and day top temperatures are in the mid teens! We also have the shorter daylight hours so it just feels dank, damp and dark all the time until we eventually hit spring again. So what does this mean for our dogs? How do they cope in winter with this cold and miserable weather and what can we do to help them get through it? Are there certain precautions and do some dogs suffer from the cold more than others?
In this blog I will shed light on some of these questions and do my best to give you and your dogs ideas on how to keep them warm, how to keep them entertained and how to keep them safe through this period.
Do dogs get cold?
I guess one question that people often ask me is whether their dog does actually feel the cold or if the shivering is just an act. For some breeds with very short coats such as the Boxers, Staffordshires, Boston Terriers, Dalmations, Whippets, Greyhounds and the likes, the winter period is their least favourite. These breeds have a very short single coat so there is no insulation, there is no protection for them and even with their supposed winter coat, it just doesn’t cut it when it comes to dealing with these low temperatures. Then we have the breeds like Samoyeds, Huskies and Malamutes and even Rottweilers who have thick coats and double layers so this is their most favourite time of the year. They love the cold and thrive in it and quite happily sleep outside in the yard on a rainy day.
So how do we know if the shivering sad faced dog at the back door is legitimately cold or not? Well I guess you need to feel your dog’s body and in particular, the ears and see if the shivering stops when you go outside to your dog. If the shivering stops, then the trembling is learned attention seeking behaviour but if your dog continues to shiver, chances are it is actually cold!
You can also check the colour of your dog’s gums. For a warm and healthy dog, the gums should be a rosy colour but if they appear pale, or a light blue, then your dog might be hypothermic! If it is, bring it inside and warm your dog up!
Now some of you might ask, how does your dog learn to shiver to get attention? That is easy. Just think back to the very first time your dog was left outside and very likely had a little shiver. You would have noticed this and felt sorry for it and very likely picked it up or let it inside. Your dog would have learned in an instant, the act of shivering causes humans to open the door and let the dog in! Dogs are just so damn smart!!
Old dogs and good old arthritis
Arthritis is the inflammation and stiffening of joints and it tends to worsen with age. It also tends to become more apparent in the cooler periods because dogs tend to move less which means more time is spent in the kennel or on the couch and those joints just don’t get regular flexing.
Below are some signs to look for or reasons your dog might be developing arthritis.
- If you notice your dog is slowing down, the spring in the step is just not the same
- Takes a bit of effort to get up and out of its own bed or your bed or couch
- Seems to find it harder to lie down or sit down, fidgets more than usual
- Is reluctant to go for a walk and prefers to stay home
- Struggles with stairs
- Seems to find it hard to settle down when in the past it normally would have
- Is pulling up sore after some mild exercises with intermittent lameness
- Has had an injury or surgery in the past that involved the skeletal system
- Is 8 years and older
If any of the signs mentioned above apply to your dog then it might be worth speaking to your vet about some preventative and relieving medications. There are a number of supplements and medications that can ease the discomfort heading into winter so remember to speak to them about it. Some of these preventatives can be given as a yearly treatment leading into winter also and can really make quite a difference.
There are also Canine Myotherapists like Marianne from Hands 4 Paws that can do body work, massage and gentle manipulation of the body to help loosen those muscles and joints. Sometimes joints are stiff because the surrounding muscles are too and getting those muscles sorted out might improve movement. You can find Canine Myotherapists on the internet and speak to your vet about recommendations too but do your research before heading to one as you want to ensure they are fully qualified!
Toilet training gone backwards
If you have a young dog, a pup or a dog that was so, so close to being toilet trained and suddenly has reverted back to peeing and pooping in the house, you can blame the cold weather. Quite a lot of dogs, especially the new ones just don’t like placing their bottoms on cold wet grass so be patient with them and encourage them to go outside by setting the example and going out with them. It tends to resolve itself quickly if you temporarily start your toilet training efforts again and teach your dog that sitting on wet grass is not all that bad!
If the toilet training issue, especially weeing, does not settle within a week, then it might be worth seeing your vet and bringing in a urine sample as some dogs can develop urinary tract infections because they hold on for too long. If the bladder is not emptied on a regular basis, bacteria can start to develop, causing the infection. If sudden changes in toilet habits appear, it is always safer to get it checked by the vet.
Dog walking in wet weather
As much as it pains us to get out when the heavens are pouring rain and the wind is blowing a chilly breeze, you might be surprised to know that most dogs actually don’t mind heading out in that weather. If we prefer to sit in front of the fire and snuggle in a warm blanket, then some dogs would just join in but there are just as many that have no problem at all facing the blizzard like conditions, after all, they are dogs!
Dogs will not get sick, catch the flu or come down with pneumonia if they go walking in rain. Don’t forget their wild counterparts live outdoors all the time, no houses or kennels to keep them warm so they are adapted to dealing with this weather.
So if you have a dog who is still keen to get out in the winter weather, whack on your gumboots, rug up in your winter coat and get those dogs out walking! Oh and don’t forget, for those of you with the super hairy dog breeds, you might want to consider a weekend snow trip!
Keeping dogs warm in winter
Whilst most dogs have decent fur coats on them all year round, there are some breeds that just don’t have a huge amount of fur on them and these dogs, as mentioned earlier, really feel the cold. So should we be putting coats on them and jumpers and clothing in general? I guess it really depends on whether your dog likes to wear stuff. Whilst some dogs love putting their pj’s on or their raincoats, there are just as many out there that go into a rubbing and ripping frenzy, desperately trying to cleanse themselves of their outfit.
Before you go out and spend money on dog clothing, try something cheap and see if your dog likes to wear it. You will know in a short time if it does and for those of you with more than one dog, keep an eye out on both of them as some dogs like to disrobe the others!
A few tip on buying clothing for your dogs:
- Try to avoid velcro tabs as the unsticking can really scare the dogs, putting them off their clothes
- Look for clothes that do not restrict movement of the front legs and neck
- Avoid jackets with heavy buckles and button as these are all chewing hazards
- Ensure they are washable as there is nothing worse than buying something you can only use once
- If you use a harness to walk your dog, look for coats that allow for them to be clipped easily
- For those of you with male dogs, if buying dog skivvies, ensure the underside of the item is not too long otherwise they will pee on them!
- Ensure they are breathable or your dog will get too hot
- If you plan to walk it in the rain, check that it is waterproof
- It isn’t all about the fashion so look for practicality and fit over design and brand
As for other ways to keep them warm, nice warm bedding will go a long way providing your dog is not a bed destroyer. Look for bedding with a polar fleece cover or lambswool as these really warm dogs up. Look for bedding that has raised sidea to keep their backs and kidneys warm.
Kennels wise, larger does not always mean better. Try to purchase a kennel that is matched to your dog’s size. To check the kennel size is correct, your dog needs to be able to stand up, turn around and lie flat on its side. Raise the kennel onto bricks if it doesn’t have legs as this will allow the breeze to go underneath rather than inside. Line the base of the kennel with marine carpet and nail it down so the dog cannot drag it out and look for timber kennels rather than plastic as they insulate really well and retain the heat better.
Wet day programs
If walking is out of the question but your dog has other plans, here are some tips to help pass the day.
- consider dog day care during the week so your dog can still play with dog friends and release some of that pent up energy
- play games such as noseworks, puzzle toys, emptying boxes and containers
- winter is the perfect time to brush up on your training so get your clicker out again, grab some treats and work on some new skills or fine tuning some existing skills
- consider food dispensers and settling aids like Kong Wobblers, Fooblers, Tug-a-Jugs, stuffed Kongs, Pickle Pockets or even pizza boxes with treats in them
- Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to also just curl up on the couch, watch a good movie or read a good book and encourage your dog to just chill out next to you
Gates and wind mean trouble
You only need to speak to someone working in a shelter or pound about windy days and they will immediately say how much of a problem they are. Whilst our gates might appear to be secure, when we get those very blustery days, locks can easily be dislodged and flimsy fencing can easily fall. Before heading out for the day, check your gates and doors and ensure they cannot blow open when some force is applied. Add an extra lock or prop something heavy in front to ensure it cannot open accidentally as the last thing you want is to come home to an open gate and a missing dog!
And I guess the other tip is to ensure your dog is microchipped with updated records so that if it did get out, your dog can very likely be returned to you on the same day.
So I hope this gives you all some ideas on how to keep your furkids warm, comfortable and safe over the winter. Some might quite like to hibernate with you over the next few months while others will drive you up the walls so get ready, have your plans B and C ready to go and hang in there!