Keeping your tail-wagger toasty in winter

The writer with her three dogs. (photo credit: DAVID GUBBAY)
The writer with her three dogs.
(photo credit: DAVID GUBBAY)
As the days grow shorter, temperatures drop and winter draws nigh, it can be harder to motivate ourselves to leave the warmth of our home to brace the biting cold. We are not necessarily alone in this feeling, as often animals as well will be less keen to go outside in this weather.
This morning, when I took my dogs for a walk in the pouring rain (dogs still need to be walked rain or shine), they let me know after a few minutes that this was not their idea of fun and started turning to go home.
Neither people nor animals can avoid going out entirely even if it is freezing cold, raining or snowing. However, there are some steps that can be taken to make winter more bearable for your dog (or other pet) and keep it healthy while still ensuring that it has the opportunity to go out.
Just as we dress warmly to go outside, the same option is available for our four-legged friends. While it might seem slightly ridiculous to dress your dog up, a coat that keeps the rain off is actually a very sensible idea, particularly if the dog is very young, sick or old.
Although the dog might not like wearing the coat, it is certainly preferable to its getting sopping wet. The coat doesn’t have to be the most fashionable label as long as it does the job. What is important is to make sure that the coat fits your pet as snugly as possible. It shouldn’t be so big that it ends up trailing on the ground when you take your dog for a walk or so tight that the dog can’t breathe. Also check to see that there are no parts such as hooks or zippers that your dog can easily swallow, as dogs have a tendency to chew on everything in reach.
Wearing a sweater inside, particularly for those breeds without much hair, will also keep your dog nice and warm. In the winter months, most pet shops sell coats and sweaters in a variety of sizes and patterns.
Winter in Israel also brings the chance of snow. While it might be a lot of fun for Rover to play in the white stuff that seems to go on forever, it is not actually so healthy, as it can cause frostbite if too much time is spent walking in the snow. Although dogs’ paws are padded, the snow can burn their feet. If they are going to be walking long distances in the snow, it is worth buying them dog boots, which can be found in most pet shops.
While the snow might look tempting enough for your pooch to eat (as most things are for dogs), it is best not to let your dog eat it, as it can lower the animal’s body temperature, potentially causing hypothermia. And the snow can contain hidden dangers such as chemicals, salt or garbage.
One of the biggest dangers that winter brings for animals is the increased use of antifreeze to defrost car windshields. Antifreeze contains ethylene, which has a very sweet taste that attracts cats and dogs but is lethal for them. If you suspect that your pet has ingested antifreeze, take it to your veterinarian immediately, as it can cause death if left untreated.
Just as you prefer to be inside in the cold winter months, the same is true for your dog.
It is highly recommended that your dog live indoors during these cold months. While I believe that dogs should live inside all year round, I am aware that there are circumstances that require a dog to be outside, for example, if he is a guard dog. However, if Fido has to be kept outside, at least ensure that he has a doghouse, with sufficient blankets and a heat lamp if possible, where he can go to find shelter. It is also important to place the water bowl inside the doghouse, where it can be kept clean from the rain and the snow.
And it is preferable to use plastic water and food bowls in the winter, as your pet’s tongue can freeze and stick to a metal bowl, which is extremely painful. If there is a snowstorm or extremely low temperatures, take your dog inside, even if only temporarily. Just as you would not like to be outside in such weather, the same is true for your dog.
While dogs obviously need to go out, even in the winter months, it is important to follow your pet’s lead. If it is clear that he really doesn’t want to go out, don’t force him but wait until it is a little warmer or has stopped raining. If going out is unavoidable, make sure that your pet is dressed warmly, and dry the dog down when it comes home. This will prevent it from getting sick – and keep your house clean. If your dog is older and/or has arthritis (as is the case with one of my dogs), the cold weather can be more painful for its joints, so keep the dog as warm as possible with lots of blankets.
Dogs also need to burn up energy, even in the winter, and can get bored spending long hours in the house. Fortunately, today there is a plethora of dog toys, particularly those that release treats that are always a favorite with dogs. These toys can be used to keep pets amused and expend energy, even if they are spending less time outdoors.
The winter months are tough for us all, so when walking your canine companion, keep an eye out for street cats or stray dogs. If you can, put out some water and food for them because they would also prefer the warmth of a home to escape the cold. If you see an animal that is really suffering, call the municipality at 106 and someone will come to retrieve the animal. Even the municipal shelter is preferable to being outside in the winter.
With a little bit of planning and common sense, there is no reason why winter can’t be a fun time for you and your pet. And snuggling up to your pooch in the winter months is also a great way to keep warm!