We’ve all heard it: “Dogs have fur coats, they don’t need clothes in winter, that’s ridiculous.” I followed that train of thought for years. I swore up and down that I would never put any form of clothing on any dog I owned unless it was a banana around their neck… I mean a bandana. That all changed last winter.
Jack loves to play in the snow, and he seems fairly hardy so I had few concerns about him being out in the snow. The first time we went out in thick wet snow though it wasn’t 15 minutes before I noticed Jack limping. Upon closer inspection the culprits turned out to be triangular ice cubes formed between the pads on his foot. The gap in his webbed toes are a perfect breeding ground for snow to turn to ice, and that ice can create visible agony. Next time you go outside put an ice cube in your shoe and walk on it in the middle of your foot, I dare you. I felt absolutely horrible and I took him home immediately to warm up his paws. After some research as it would turn out ice forming in the paw pads is a regular occurring, and quite painful problem I had been completely unaware of. I began to delve deeper in to the dangers for pets in winter. The dangers of winter can vary depending on the size, age, and breed of your dog. And they can effect many areas of the body.
The paw pads of the dog have a sort of built in warming system. The initial few layers of skin on their paw pads are made of fat and freeze resistant connective tissue to help battle the initial shock of the cold. Following those there is an intricate system of arteries which span into the dogs legs designed to move and warm blood quickly when exposed to the cold. I realize that makes it sound as if dogs should be fine in the cold, and for bigger, burlier breeds such as huskies, German shepherds, or mountain dogs it does. Some dog’s paws even rival that of the penguin’s warming system in regulating body and paw temperatures. But for smaller breeds or warm climate breeds these natural systems have broken down. Natural warmth systems are also undeveloped in younger dogs, older dogs, and dogs that may have sustained foot injuries; even a recent cut can mitigate protection.
Another danger to a dogs paws is salt or other vehicle related products on the road. Regular deicer trucks can drop down salt mixed with chemicals like magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, calcium formate, potassium acetate, and many other foreign agents. If your dog gets these chemical on their paws and then licks them they can obviously become very sick. It is advisable to keep your dog away from these products or opt for pet safe products such as “Safe Paw” which can be found at most local pet stores. These products are usually safer for two legged children as well. And face it, who doesn’t want “That Green Stuff”? Obvious marketing geniuses.
Another thing to remember when preparing your dog for the winter is different dogs have different patterns of fur growth, and different amounts of body fat. Dogs like the Newfoundland, Akita, or Chow Chow who have thick coats that cover their entire bodies and a lot more body fat can be fine in very cold temperatures. On the other side of that a dog like a rat terrier, often have short fur, a naked belly and very little body fat and would be very uncomfortable in very cold temperatures.
In the end there is no one chart I can give you that will tell you if your dog is going to be comfortable. Following this paragraph is a rough guideline, but you should know best, just use some common sense! There are a lot of factors that can contribute to compatibility of your dog with any weather. The best thing you can do is research your dogs breeds, and observe them to be mindful of what may or may not be affecting them. A good rule of thumb is that if you are feeling to cold with your winter clothes on, then they are probably feeling too cold too. There is no shame in putting clothes on your dog!
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