Safety for All Seasons
Whether it's hot or cold, sunny or stormy, here's what you need to know to keep your dog protected from the elements.
Your dog will stay snug and warm with our handy recommendations.
Cold-Weather TipsDon't let your puppyget too cold.
- The old and the young are particularly sensitive to the cold and more likely to suffer in extreme temperatures. Pay close attention to puppies and older dogs in the cold weather and react promptly if you sense discomfort.
- Proper nourishment helps a dog endure the vicissitudes of winter. Dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors may need to eat more than they do in other seasons because they are expending more energy coping with the cold.
- Snow is not a source of drinking water for dogs. You still must provide plenty of fresh water when your dog is outdoors. Change the water several times a day and do not let it freeze. If installed properly and checked regularly, electrically-heated water bowls are an option.
- Examine your dog's paws before he comes back in the house, do so several times a day if your dog spends most of his day outdoors. To prevent trapped moisture from causing sores, remove any snow or ice packed between the toes of your dog's footpads and wipe his paws.
- Clip your dog's nails and trim the hair between her toes and on the bottom of her feet. Long nails interfere with your dog's traction on icy surfaces, and hair collects snow that turns to ice balls.
- Booties can help protect your dog's feet from cold and from road salt and deicing chemicals.
- Low humidity and heat from fireplaces can cause dry skin and shedding. Brush your dog frequently to get rid of dead hair and skin and to stimulate oil glands.
- When you stock up on essentials like candles and canned goods before a major snowstorm, don't forget dog food and any medications your dog may need. A canine first-aid kit, available at pet supply stores, is a sensible precaution, too.
Most dogs are double-coated; they have a single layer of coat and an undercoat. In the fall, give your double-coated dog plenty of time outdoors to stimulate the development of a thick undercoat so that she will be comfortable outside during the winter.
Hypothermia (subnormal body temperature) occurs when a dog's body temperature drops below 96 degrees F. Some dogs tolerate cold better than others regardless of breed, size, or coat, and the temperature on the thermometer isn't as important as your dog's reaction. For example, a dog in Florida might shiver at 20 degrees F, while an Alaskan canine of the same breed might find that temperature invigorating. So if your dog is shivering, give him a protective sweater. Many small dogs, shorthaired dogs, older dogs, and dogs with health problems always need clothing to keep warm.
Flushed and reddened tissues, white or grayish tissues, evidence of shock, scaly skin and possible shedding of dead skin are signs of frostbite. As in humans, your dog's extremities are the most vulnerable -- the ears, paw pads, and tail.
If you suspect frostbite, do not rub frozen tissues (it adds to the damage). Get your dog to a vet immediately. If you can't get to a vet right away, immerse the affected area in warm (not hot) water or use warm, moist towels, changing them often. When the affected area becomes flushed, stop warming and begin to gently dry. Cover lightly with a clean, dry, nonadhering bandage and take your dog to a vet as soon as you can.
Once your dog has had frostbite, you need to be extra protective in preventing overexposure to cold because she is now more susceptible to freezing.
One good way to prevent frostbite is to thoroughly dry off your dog, no matter how often she gets wet. A damp dog in a draft is more susceptible to illness.
- Use a flat, buckled collar if your dog is outdoors most of the time; in extreme cold, a steel choke collar can cause neck burns, turning the skin black.
- A doghouse should be elevated, insulated, watertight, and protected from wind. The shelter should be small enough that your dog's body heat will help to keep her warm. A bed keeps a dog off the floor, reducing drafts. Bedding should be clean and dry.
- Learn the local law; in some areas it is illegal to leave an animal outside when the weather reaches a certain temperature.
- Check with your vet to make sure your dog does not have any health conditions that would preclude being housed outdoors.
Antifreeze. Antifreeze is toxic to pets. It tastes sweet and dogs will lap it up if you do not dispose of it properly. Keep your antifreeze out of reach and/or locked away. If you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze, call your vet immediately.
Fireplaces. Screen fireplaces and teach your dog to stay a safe distance away from the screen. The heat from fireplaces can contribute to skin problems, and the fumes can cause respiratory distress. No animal should lie close to a fire; hot cinders or sparks can burn your pet.
Salt and deicers. Salt and deicers used to keep roads and sidewalks clear can also irritate footpads and cause bleeding. Rinse and dry your dog's feet and do not let him lick his paws if he has stepped in salt or a deicer.
For a creative alternative to using salt or deicers on your property, Iowa vet Robert Culver recommends that you use "plain clay cat litter. It's not toxic and it gives dogs enough traction to help keep them from slipping on the ice."
Pet-supply stores also sell balms that you can apply to your dog's footpads to form a protective barrier against salt and deicers. Booties are another alternative, although some dogs do not like wearing them.
Thin ice. Do not let your dog play on frozen ponds or lakes. The risks of drowning or hypothermia from falling through thin ice are too great.
Tinsel. Eating tinsel and Christmas decorations can cause intestinal distress and damage, and may require surgery. If you suspect that your dog has eaten some of your holiday decorations, and you notice a loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and listlessness, see your vet immediately.
Keep your dog comfortable and healthy in the warm weather with our practical suggestions.
- Puppies and older dogs are more susceptible to hot weather; encourage your puppy to take a break from play to cool off, and don't overtax your older dog.
- Although you may think a close clip will keep your dog cool, if the cut is too short your dog can get a sunburn. At a normal length, a dog's coat has insulating properties that help protect him from the heat.
- If you take your dog to the beach, take water for him to drink -- dogs should not drink seawater or lakewater. Bacteria and other bugs in the water can cause an upset tummy or other illnesses.
Avoiding Heat Stress
Some dogs handle hot weather better than others. Puppies, older dogs, short-nosed breeds like pugs and bulldogs, overweight dogs, and dogs with heart or lung problems are more likely to suffer from heat stress. If your dog has recently moved from a cooler climate, he is more vulnerable, too.
These tips will help you prevent heat stress in your dog.
- Provide plenty of water and shade. Dogs need hydration and respite from the sun, just like people do. A few ice cubes help keep drinking water cold longer.
- Avoid excessive exercise. On extremely hot or humid days, try to walk your dog in the early morning, preferably before sunrise, or later in the evening, after the sun sets.
- Never leave your dog in a car in hot weather. (This is so important than it is against the law in some areas to leave a dog in a car on a hot day.)
- When traveling or shipping your pet by air, do not schedule flights during peak periods, which are often plagued by delays and stopovers. Choose early-morning or evening flights, when the sun is less strong, and pick up your pet promptly upon arrival at your destination.
A type of heat stress, heatstroke can come on quickly and usually results from overexposure to heat and humidity and from a lack of ventilation.
Signs of heatstroke are panting; staring blankly or appearing anxious; not responding to commands; warm, dry skin; hot body temperature; dehydration; rapid heartbeat; and collapse.
If you think your dog may have heatstroke, call your vet. Spray your dog with a garden hose or put him in a tub of cool (not cold) water to lower body temperature. If water is not available, apply ice packs to the dog's head and neck. Give your dog ice cubes to lick on your way to the vet. Even if your dog appears to be feeling better, an immediate trip to the vet's office can help prevent possible secondary complications.
Swimming. Not all dogs are great swimmers, and even a great swimmer can get caught in an undertow. To be on the safe side, give your dog a life preserver, available at pet supply stores, especially if you plan to take your dog on a boat.
Bugs. Mosquitoes can carry a parasite that infects your dog with heartworm disease. Take your dog to your vet each year before mosquito season begins, and have him checked for heartworm and other internal parasites. Your vet can prescribe a heartworm prevention program.
Fleas and ticks are more plentiful in the summer. Groom your dog regularly and look carefully for ticks and fleas. Your vet can prescribe medication to prevent flea and tick infestation, or you can purchase special preventive shampoos, dips, and collars.
Lawn and garden. Some plants are hazardous if dogs munch on them. Plan a "pet-safe" garden or do not allow your dog in your garden.
Insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can be dangerous or poisonous to pets. Residue accumulates on a dog's paws when she runs on a treated area; she could become ill if she licks the chemicals off her paws. Freshly-sprayed lawns are a particular concern if your dog is fond of eating grass.
Hot pavement or sand can cause footpad problems. If the surface is too hot for your bare feet (you can check the pavement with your hand), it's too hot for your dog's.
To remove sticky tar, rub the dog's footpads with petroleum jelly, wash with a mild soap and water, and rinse well. Do not use kerosene or turpentine; they irritate the skin and can be toxic.
Antifreeze. In warm weather, cars can overheat and leak antifreeze. This substance is highly toxic to dogs; take your dog to the vet immediately if you suspect that she has ingested antifreeze. Store your antifreeze in a locked cabinet or on a high shelf, and dispose of spills promptly.