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There's much talk during the summer months about the importance of protecting your dog from the blazing sun and how to keep it from suffering the ill effects of heat stroke, dehydration or worse. However, it is equally important to keep your dog warm during the freezing winter months. Frostbite, hypothermia and even death are real dangers to your dog as the snow piles up and the mercury drops.
It is generally assumed by many that, because of their furry coats, dogs are impervious to the cold and can take whatever winter dishes out. But not all dogs are tolerant to the cold. Puppies, smaller dogs and older dogs should not be left outdoors when the temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The acceptable temperature range for all dogs depends greatly on age, health, breed and degree of acclimatization; consult your veterinarian about your dog's specific cold-weather needs.
When any dog is exposed to the cold for too long, frostbite can set in. Frostbite occurs when a dog's ears, paws or tail get cold enough that ice crystals form in the tissue and causes damage. If you think your dog has frostbite, bring him into a warm area and soak the affected areas with warm water for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, contact your local veterinarian immediately.
Hypothermia, which occurs when the dog's body temperature goes below normal as a result of prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, is another very real danger during the cold winter months. Symptoms of hypothermia typically include shivering, lethargy, a low heart rate, slow breathing and unresponsiveness. If you notice any of these symptoms, warm the dog immediately and contact your veterinarian.
If your dog needs to stay outside for long periods of time, make sure he has a dry, warm and draft-free doghouse. And just like Goldilocks looking for a bed, the doghouse should be just the right size in order to provide warmth and comfort. If the doghouse is too large, it will not maintain the appropriate temperatures. But if it is too small, your dog will be unable to move around, thus limiting his circulation and reducing his ability to keep himself warm.
If you don't have a doghouse and have to use your garage for shelter, check for antifreeze spills and other dangerous elements within the dog's reach. Antifreeze tastes sweet, and some forms of it are toxic to animals.
A dog's internal system works extra hard in the cold to maintain appropriate body temperatures. As such, he needs extra fuel to burn and generate heat. Also, remember to provide plenty of fresh drinking water and keep it from freezing. It is just as easy to get dehydrated in the winter as it is in the summer if proper amounts of water are not consumed.
Try to keep snow from building up along fences so it does not provide artificial steps that will allow your dog to get out of the safety of your yard. If he does get out, remember that ice-melting chemicals commonly used on public streets can irritate and burn your dog's paws. Be sure to rinse off his feet after being exposed to such chemicals.
Winter months can be just as hazardous to your dog's health as the summer months. But by taking the right precautions and using good old common sense, you can help protect your dog from the dangers that can accompany the harsh winter climate.