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Winter Care for Dogs: Keeping Your Dog Safe & Healthy This Winter

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Vet-approved advice for winter care for dogs can help dogs stay healthy and happy in cold weather. In this photo, a black dog stands in a snowy landscape, with visible snow in their fur. Their pink tongue sticks out slightly.

Cuddles with your furry friend are extra welcome on cold days, but the winter months also carry some unique challenges for dog health and safety. So, with the coldest weather ahead of us, we’ve put together a few winter care tips to help you keep your dog safe and healthy this winter.

Five winter care tips for dogs

1. Limit exposure

When temperatures drop, so too must the duration of outdoor adventures. If you’re used to long walks and bouts of play outside, keep an eye on the temperature and pay close attention to your dog’s comfort level. Dogs and cold weather shouldn’t mix for too long—hypothermia and frostbite become real dangers as the temperatures dip below freezing.

If you’re still walking your usual route but your dog seems to lose some of their familiar energy by the end, you might want to map out a shorter route for the colder months. You may be bundled up in cold-weather gear, but your dog is working with a considerably more limited wardrobe—and burning additional calories just to keep warm.

2. Bundle up

Speaking of coats, your dog might need some extra insulation during cold weather. Dogs that are on the smaller side have less body mass and therefore don’t generate as much heat. Dogs with short coats—or no coat, like a Chinese Crested Dog or Peruvian Inca Orchid—definitely require additional insulation in winter weather.

If your pup could use an extra layer, find a warm coat that fits well, like one of these winter accessories for dogs. Consider getting at least two—that way, you’ll always have a dry one on hand. A damp or wet coat is counter-productive because it can increase the risk of hypothermia.

3. Protect those paws

Cold surfaces, ice, and snow can be rough on your dog’s feet. The addition of salt on roads and sidewalks can be especially irritating, and even dangerous, to sensitive paws. If your regular walk and play areas get salted in the winter, consider protecting your dog’s paws with some winter booties or paw balm.

Once you’re back home, towel your pup’s paws or rinse them in lukewarm water, making sure to get any snow, ice or salt between the toes. For longer-haired or lower-to-the-ground dogs, be sure to clean any salt from their bellies, tails, and ears, too.

4. Avoid antifreeze

Most traditional antifreeze products contain ethylene glycol, which is extremely toxic to pets. If you think that your pet may have licked or consumed antifreeze, seek veterinary attention right away. Signs of possible ingestion include stumbling or balance problems, drinking or urinating excessively, lethargy, vomiting, or seizures. Left untreated, kidney failure and death can occur. Be sure to clean up any spills immediately and check vehicles routinely for leaks.

While ethylene glycol is commonly found in antifreeze, it can be found in other unexpected places as well. There are also alternative antifreeze products available that are safer and do not contain ethylene glycol.

5. Prevent respiratory illness

Though respiratory disease can affect your pet in any month, extra time indoors and colder temperature may increase risk for illness in winter months. Veterinarians refer to this type of illness as canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), the highly contagious condition that spreads in places like kennels, dog parks, and dog daycare centers where many dogs are coming and going. 

This condition is caused by a variety of bacterial and viral diseases, such as Bordetella, parainfluenza virus, distemper virus, and canine influenza virus, which lead to combinations of coughing, sneezing, nasal/eye discharge, lethargy, fever, or poor appetite. Some of these diseases have vaccinations to prevent or reduce the severity of infection.

Bordetella is the name of the bacteria that most commonly causes an infectious cough in dogs. Arming your pup with the Bordetella vaccination, ideally intranasally to protect against parainfluenza virus as well, is a good preventative measure and is often required at boarding facilities. However, even vaccinated dogs aren’t 100% immune. The most common sign is a loud, hacking cough that may include a retch at the end. Your dog might also exhibit a runny nose, fatigue, or a low-grade fever. 

If you’re worried your dog might have picked up “kennel cough,” contact your veterinarian. They may recommend further tests, such as a respiratory PCR panel, and/or treatment depending on severity.

There is also a vaccination available for canine influenza virus, which may be recommended for your dog based on your location, your lifestyle, or the boarding facility requirements.

Know your dog’s history

Breeds like Samoyeds, Saint Bernards, and Alaskan Malamutes are winter weather pros with cold-resistant, double-layered coats. In contrast, Greyhounds, Whippets, and Chihuahuas are examples of breeds who may require extra care in cold climates.

Knowing your dog’s genetic ancestry and the climates in which their ancestors acclimated can help you be more informed when it comes to their preparedness for colder weather.

An Embark dog DNA test can provide insights into your dog’s background by testing for 350+ breeds. We also test for 215+ genetic health risks and 35+ traits. Grab your DNA kit today—and stay warm out there!

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