The dog in winter: today’s canine wears a coat, gets fitted for boots (but usually hates them)—and almost always gets his exercise, right?

The long winter nights and brisk, snowy days may make you contemplate hibernation, but if you own a dog you must shrug off such thoughts since dogs, despite the cold, need exercise. How much of the great outdoors should be enjoyed depends upon the breed, age and health of your dog.

Some breeds like Alaskan malamutes or Siberian huskies may actually prefer the frosty outdoors to the warm indoors. If your dog is one of these northern breeds or a mix of such breeds, you might have a happier dog if you let him spend several hours outside each day. In such a case you should make sure there is adequate shelter in your yard so the dog can seek refuge from strong winds or sudden snowfalls. A heated water bowl is also recommended.

Most can take the cold

At the other extreme are breeds such as whippets or greyhounds that have little protection from the cold. Such dogs need to be watched carefully when outside. It doesn’t take much for these dogs to start shivering.

Most dogs fall in between these extremes and can be acclimatized to the cold and snow. Dog coats and boots are becoming commonplace and allow you to keep your dog outdoors longer. When selecting a coat, function is more important than fashion. Since dogs come in a large variety of sizes and shapes, manufacturers have difficulty producing coats to fit every dog. Mixed breeds compound the problem.

Ideally, you should take your dog into the store (most pet specialty stores allow this) and try on a variety of styles. I have frequently seen situations where a dog dislikes wearing one coat but seems not to be bothered by a different coat. Because it may be the material, fit or fastening that bothers the dog, try different types of coats and you will likely find one that your dog doesn’t mind wearing.

If you can’t take your dog to the store, then take several measurements particularly body length from back of neck to end of body and circumference of the widest part of the body. Then measure the coats in the store.

Boots are more problematic and some dogs just never seem to adapt to walking with foreign objects on their feet. Owners often complain about losing a boot during their walk. It may be wiser to choose a colour brighter than the standard black so that you are more likely to find an errant boot. I know of at least one manufacturer that sells boots in packs of five, so you have a spare if needed.

Again, footwear comes in many different styles and materials so you may have to experiment to find a suitable pair. If boots do not work, there are foot sprays and ointments that provide a barrier between the paws and the ice and snow. “Invisible Boot” is a well-known brand although there are others on the market. Owners report varying degrees of success with applied products.

Use leash for winter walks

Regardless of whether your dog has boots, sprays, ointments or nothing, you should always wipe your dog’s feet upon returning from your trek since salt, sand, antifreeze and other irritants can be transferred to your dog’s paws. Ingesting antifreeze can be deadly for any animal.

When walking near ice use extra caution to avoid slipping. This applies both to you and your dog. Always stay clear of frozen bodies of water. Not only are they slippery but you never know if there is a thin spot on the ice. I know of a couple of cases where dogs fell into the water and could not be rescued.

While it’s never a good idea to walk your dog without a leash, this is especially true when it’s snowing, as dogs can lose their scent, become agitated and get lost.

It’s usually obvious if, despite your efforts, your dog is less active in winter and therefore burns fewer calories. If so keep an eye on the dog’s weight and if necessary decrease the amount of food and treats he’s getting. It may be you should be playing with your dog indoors, although with larger dogs this is a challenge. By contrast, if your dog enjoys romping in the snow, he may be expending more calories than usual and an increase in food may be needed.

Groomed coat gives protection

You should also keep your dog well-groomed in winter since a properly groomed coat acts like insulation as well as protecting the skin from becoming dry.

An elderly dog that has arthritis or other mobility issues should still be taken for walks except on days when even you wouldn’t venture out. The daily walks reduce boredom and can often have a positive effect on the dog’s condition. Unless a vet tells you otherwise, you should expect even your aged dog to benefit from daily walks during the winter.

Try to keep both your dog and yourself active and enjoy our winter climate even as you may be dreaming about the coming spring.

Animal lover Robert Urano was longtime owner of a pet food store.

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