When the deep chills, snowfall, and icy conditions of winter are upon us, dogs face some cold weather-specific problems and a few serious dangers. While pet owners can simply keep their dogs indoors most of the time, those of us with service dogs don’t have that luxury; when we have to go out, so do they, even if the weather isn’t particularly accommodating.
Dogs have a similar cold tolerance as humans. Longer, thicker coats provide more warmth, but they by no means make your assistance dog impervious to the cold. If you’re uncomfortably chilly, chances are your canine companion is too. She’s also susceptible to the same painful problems associated with low temperatures as you are—for example, chapped, dry, and irritated skin; stinging extremities in the frigid air; and worsening arthritis or other conditions.
So, just like you need to take precautions to protect your service dog in hot weather, some special cold weather care is necessary through the winter. Here are 15 tips to help ensure your assistance dog remains happy, healthy, and fully capable of performing her tasks when the weather outside is frightful.
- Don’t cut your dog’s hair short in the winter, as the coat provides much-appreciated insulation.
- However, trim the fur on her feet and between her toes, as ice, salt, and hazardous de-icing chemicals can stick to overgrown hair.
- Antifreeze and many de-icing agents are highly toxic to dogs and potentially fatal if ingested. Keep your service dog away from puddles and wipe her feet, legs, and stomach down thoroughly with a towel after going outside to remove chemicals before they’re licked off.
- Put canine socks or booties on your dog when walking outside. They add extra warmth, prevent dangerous chemicals from getting on her feet or between her toes, and protect her sensitive paw pads from freezing cold surfaces, salt crystals, and other wintertime hazards.
- If you don’t have booties, coat the bottom of your dog’s feet with petroleum jelly to help protect her paw pads outside.
- A canine shirt, sweater, or coat keeps your assistance dog warmer outside.
- Dogs have an amazing sense of smell, but it’s much less effective in the snow and ice. This makes them more prone to getting lost. While your service dog undoubtedly reliably sticks close, just be aware there’s some added risk. Remember her ID tag, and microchipping is always a good idea.
- When your dog’s internal heating system cranks up, it burns more energy. This can necessitate a little more food, especially if she isn’t any less active just because the temperature dips.
- Make sure your dog has a warm, cozy place to rest and sleep. Provide a dog bed away from drafts and in a temperature-controlled room. Remember, hard floors get quite cold in winter.
- Run humidifiers in the rooms you and your assistance dog spend the most time in; it’ll do you both good. The variance between outside’s cold air and inside’s warm, dry air (made worse by heating systems) takes a toll on human and canine skin, drying it out and easily causing irritation and cracking.
- Refrain from bathing your dog as much as possible in the winter. Baths exacerbate dry skin problems. If you do have to bathe your assistance dog, use a mild moisturizing canine shampoo.
- Space heaters can burn your dog. Also, they can be a fire hazard if they get knocked over.
- It’s well publicized that keeping an animal in a car in hot weather easily leads to heatstroke and possibly death; leaving one in a car in cold weather is dangerous too, as it can lead to hypothermia and even death.
- Be prepared for a blizzard, icy conditions, or otherwise getting stuck in the house for longer than expected. Have plenty of dog food on hand, as well as a canine first aid kit. It’s also nice to have a few new toys stashed away to excite and stimulate your dog if she’s housebound for an extended period.
- Ask your vet if there are any special cold weather concerns if your service dog has any health problems. As mentioned, arthritis and other joint diseases are easily aggravated by the cold, as are a variety of other conditions. Manage pain and other symptoms proactively as advised by your vet.
Some good information and a little extra attention and care go a long way toward protecting your assistance dog from the discomforts and dangers that come up when the temperatures go down. Your canine helper takes good care of you, and you’ll always return the favor!