Doggie Beware…It’s Frigid Out There!

Here we are at the height of unpredictable winter season: We’re looking sub-20 degrees in the eye and we’ve already stepped into, slid on and shoveled our fair share of snow. If you haven’t already done so, it’s not too late to consider the potential risks that the winter elements can present to your dog, and proceed to take steps to protect him. If you’re like many dog owners, your precious pooch is a family member and, as such, you want to shield him from danger so that he’s healthy, safe and happy. Becoming aware (beware!) of seasonal hazards certainly doesn’t mean that you should retreat in fear when faced with the challenges of winter; nor resort to extreme measures like putting your doggie under house arrest for 3 months; or only allowing him outside for 4 minutes swaddled from snout to tail in full snowsuit garb. (Sure, that might make for a cute-funny pic, but we’re going for realistic and practical solutions here.) So instead of such radical maneuvers, all one really needs is to cultivate some extra awareness and take a few precautionary steps to ensure that your dog remains healthy and happy. First, of course, you must identify potential trouble spots for Spot so you can take the appropriate safeguards. Let’s look at a few here:

Environment and surfaces:

Fur is, well, furry and some might assume that dogs have evolved to withstand even extreme cold, however, like humans, your pup’s skin is vulnerable to damage from prolonged exposure to low temperatures. We’re talking about frostbite. One of the challenges though, is, that your dog can’t tell you he feels discomfort so it behooves you to be cognizant, checking for signs of a problem if he’s been outside in the frigid air and on icy surfaces for a while. The areas of pooch’s body most at risk for damage from frostbite ‘burn’ are his nose, ears, footpads and tail. You can check for signs of frostbite such as hard, pale and cold skin. These symptoms, plus subsequent swelling and redness, may be present even after he’s been inside for a while. If your pooch’s skin has been ‘burned’ by the cold, he might even lick or chew on it in order to relieve the discomfort. (Tip- in terms of treating your dog’s frostbite, never apply hot water or any other hot substance directly to his skin. Lukewarm water can be used or non-electric blankets. If there are any signs of more severe damage, of course it’s time to call the vet.) And, believe it or not, your dog is susceptible to hypothermia as well. Keep track of the time he spends outside, especially when the temps become extremely low. Sure, he can don a sweater or other warm-ish garment. But he cannot withstand freezing weather indefinitely. The dampness and continuous cold of winter can also effect your doggie’s joints. This climate can exacerbate the symptoms of arthritis in dogs, among other animals. It’s more common for middle aged and older pooches to have arthritis. So, swollen and painful joints can act up particularly during this cold, wet time of year. It’s always in good judgment to be vigilant and watch for indications that your dog is limping or exhibiting signs of pain.

Chemical substances:

Ohh, the pure white wonderland… so pristine, right? Well, snow can glisten all it wants, but the salts and other chemicals humans sprinkle on icy surfaces can actually be very dangerous for our dear doggies. These are the ‘elements’ that we humans toss into the wintery mix—those we use to keep us all safe from hazards and risks. Ice-melting and friction-producing rock salt and other chemicals on the ground’s surface can irritate doggie’s skin and even get into cuts or scrapes on the pads of his feet. Salt-based products can result in severe dermatitis, or inflammation, of the paws. In addition, your dog may lick his paws, thereby ingesting the chemicals that can cause serious gastrointestinal issues. (Tip- In fact, there are products manufactured that are safer for animals. You cannot dictate what’s in public places, but perhaps you can investigate those you used on your own driveway and sidewalk. Another way to skin this cat, oops… dog is to outfit him with some protective booties. And, if your dog isn’t comfortable wearing those booties, take good care by cleaning his paws each time he comes in from outdoors.) And then there’s antifreeze, an extremely toxic chemical for humans and animals, which has an inviting sweet odor that may attract your pup. While changing your cars’ antifreeze there can be spills or splashes that pooches can lick from the ground. The common ingredient, ethylene glycol, is a relatively fast acting chemical and, unfortunately, accounts for many accidental pet deaths. (Tip- Antifreeze poisoning must be treated immediately. Symptoms can manifest within 12 hours of ingestion. They include nervous system impairment– ‘as if your dog was drunk,’ vomiting and kidney failure, among others. Despite the fact that new, ‘safer’ products are on the market, it doesn’t mean that they’re completely danger free. So err on the side of caution–thoroughly clean spills right away and keep containers out of reach.)


Just kidding. Snowmen aren’t hazardous. They’re just cold and cute. Like much else when it comes to the safety and well-being of your doggie, awareness key. There should be no insurmountable obstacles when it comes to plowing through winter with your pet… All in all, these ‘warnings’ are intended to educate, as opposed to instill fear. Your doggie is quite well suited to live among humans throughout our 4 seasons. So enjoy taking your pooch out for a stroll down the lane or a romp in the snow. Simply remain informed, attentive, and apply good sense in order to make winter a safe, fun-filled time for the entire family. Written by Julie Lauton