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Five tips to keep pets safe during Dog Days of Winter

It’s time to restock the supply of firewood. What better way to get some chores done and give the pups some exercise than to bring them along? It’s a quarter-mile trudge through the woods to a woodpile and back to the trailer hitched to my Jeep. Spice and Suki will love the off-leash romp and I will enjoy the company.

Chewbaca is training to wear snow gear his very first winter, thanks to his very smart owners, Carolyn and John
Photo by Carolyn Lauckner

Despite the cold, it’s a sunny day. “The little ones” are they are called are prepared: Suki is outfitted in her Harley-Davidson fleece sweater and her paws have been sprayed with Pad Guard Wax from Pet Supplies Plus. Spice is adorned in her fleece sweater with the glow-in-the dark red heart emblazoned across the back. She is wearing her Pawz Dog Boots from PetCo for traction and pad protection.

I hitched the sled to my waist, loaded my backpack with extra clothing, Ruffwear waterbowls, some water bottles and we’re off!

They lasted one lap. I needed to do at least 5.

After the first lap, Suki was in the backpack and Spice rode shotgun on the sled.

See, while humans can adapt to seasonal changes with wardrobe adjustments, animals can’t. They have to go in training. Humans know when it’s time to put away the Teva sandals and pull out the UGG snow boots; dogs just know to lift up their paws and whine because something hurts.

Owners have several options to keep their companion animals safe. Stock up on products to protect paws and start adding clothing to Rover the minute the weather takes a chill, even for a few minutes each day. If your bowser is one that might accompany you on a winter hike or ski jaunt, then backpack training is essential. Experts recommend beginning training by placing a washcloth on the middle of pooch’s back for a week (strap if necessary). Graduate to a handtowel; then a bigger towel; then a sweatshirt. And finally walks outside with a harness-type lead, leading to a carrier-type backpack. When it's winter sweater time? No sweat!

When we adopted Kae, she was 3. So, there was no telling what she was used to, other than she was perfectly comfortable in the snow. But clearly, a backpack was not in her history. She immediately ran to the first downed log and began scraping at the straps, trying to rid herself of it – despite the fact that it carried her treats and kibble. She wanted it off!

Spice is very patient with clothing, but her Chow paws are sensitive. So, booties, right? But, again, with her history unknown, we had to start from the beginning. A jaunt across Echo Lake and she ripped those Pawz Dog boots off in the first mile. But 10 feet later, she is acting like she is playing a game of Twister: lifting up one paw, then the other. What to do?

Dr. Laurie Murray, director of medicine for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says long-haired dogs in particular have problems in the snow as ice crystals and snow can gather in between toes and on pads.

Here’s our top 5 tips for keeping everyone safe while enjoying the winter fun with your companion animals.

  1. Carry a towel when outside walking or at a dog park to clean off sore or stinging paws. Keep another one near the entryway to immediately wipe off paws when returning inside. After each jaunt outside, check paws and toes for salt, grit, crystals and chemicals – and also check for irritation, too.
  2. Covering pets in a fleece sweater or windbreaker will help fight off the cold and retain body heat. Such protection also prevents skin from becoming too dry.
  3. Don’t forget to groom! Routine brushing helps remove any chemicals, salt crystals, sand, or ice-melting agents that might accumulate in fur and be poisonous. It also stimulates circulation that boosts body heat.
  4. Keep the humidifier running. It’s good for humans and it’s good for Rover. Look at the fur? It is on end? Does Pooch come up for a kiss and shock you? Turn on the humidifier? While your skin is drying out, so is theirs.
  5. Eat and drink a little extra. Everyone burns extra energy and is in danger of dehydration during cold weather. Just make sure the calories are valuable. Merrick PetCare has a good line of grain-free food for all stages of life and all dietary needs.

For more information, see the ASPCA’s Top Ten Cold Weather Tips:

If you spot any wounds, redness, or bleeding, contact a veterinarian immediately to prevent infection.

Speaking of cold weather: How about those Michigan State Spartans? Great way to represent the Big Ten by winning the 2014 Rose Bowl! Go Sparty!

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