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Having small breed or smooth-coated dogs brings special winter concerns versus owning large double-coated breeds as your canine companions.





by Karen Rhodes


I have three small dogs and live in Vermont temperatures that fluctuate from steamy, humid summers to dangerously frigid winters.


This morning the temperature plummeted to 10 zero. That reminded me there is real risk in winter, especially for owners unaccustomed to Arctic blasts and who do not know the dangers and symptoms of frostbite.



There are several precautionary things I do to keep my dogs safe from hypothermia, frostbite, and the possibilities of dog getting lost in in blinding, blowing snowy weather. Note: Even in suburbia there is also more danger from hungry predators.


If it is too cold for you to be outside without a coat, it’s too cold for your short-coated pet even though dogs have a higher body temperature (101.5). Small dogs are generally more susceptible because of their body size and oversized bravery! My little dogs would chase a squirrel into the deep snow or challenge a foraging bear without hesitation.


Limiting exposure to extreme temperatures (summer or winter!) can save your dog’s health, even his life. Be aware that even short-term exposure to freezing temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Provide small dogs or those with thin hair a waterproof coat or sweater for going outside. Wearing pet booties can also help keep your pet’s feet warm, dry and protected against de-icing salt or chemicals. Personally, I have tried the booties with my dogs and they are not well tolerated. So most of the time I just make trips outside to relieve themselves short and productive. I don’t want them to think they can soil inside and learn this behavior by not keeping the routine.


Symptoms of hypothermia may include

lethargy, shivering, pale gums, unsteady or strange gait, confusion


Immediate First Aid For Hypothermia Is Critical! Bring your dog indoors, carrying or dragging him on a blanket or carpet if necessary. Warm blankets or towels in the clothes dryer and wrap your dog up in them. Hypothermia is nothing to fool with. Organ damage and death can occur if the dog is not quickly and properly warmed.


Know These Hypothermic Temperature Guidelines

Use a non-breakable rectal thermometer to take your pet’s temperature. 101 to 102.5F (38.3 to 39.2C) is the normal body temperature for a dog.


Mild hypothermia is 90 to 99F (32 to 35C); weakness, shivering, and lack of mental alertness.

Moderate: 82 to 90F (28 to 32C); muscle stiffness, low blood pressure, shallow, slow breathing.

Severe: below 82F (28C); fixed and dilated pupils, inaudible heartbeat, difficulty breathing, coma.


If gums are pale and he registers in the “severe temperature range” begin emergency treatment and call the veterinarian.


If your dog is mild or moderate, offer warm broth in small frequent doses to help raise body temperature. Use of warming devices should be directly supervised. Never leave your pet unattended around heating devices such as space heaters, wood stoves, electric blankets, or open flames such as candles and oil lamps.


CAUTION! Direct contact with high temperature heating pads can burn your pet as can hairdryers.


Frostbite: Frostbite is not always instantly recognizable. Aside from the animal not using or rapidly shifting from leg to leg, watch for inability or refusal to walk and tenderness in the affected areas.  Especially susceptible areas include the nose, ears, legs, scrotum and tails.


Products which contain non-toxic waxes to help prevent cracked or bleeding paws if it is very cold or they are showing signs of paw problems. Please check with your veterinarian for products they recommend. NOTE: Bacon fats or petroleum jelly can exacerbate the problem due to increased licking of the affected areas.


Storms: Even Lassie could get lost in severe storms where visibility and loss of scent trails and markers can occur. These storms are dangerous times for a pet to be outside unsupervised. There are also dangers of falling through thin ice during the winter.


Warming: Pets should never be left unattended around warming and/or heating devices such as space heaters, wood stoves, or electric blankets. If they get too close to the heat source it can put them at risk for burns or other injuries.



Winter is especially tough for wild creatures. As available food stocks dwindle carnivores such as foxes, wolves, mink, owls, and coyotes may consider your small dog or the St. Bernard’s food bowl as a prime target for a hungry belly. Certain predators have been seen in cities as human intrusion into their territories increases and normal food supply has decreased.


Chemical De-icers: Many people and municipalities use chemicals or salts to stop icing of walking areas or roadways. Salts can cause severe burns to a dog’s paws; heavy use of sand can also abrade the tissues. Unsalted sand, dirt and spent cold fireplace ashes (ashes contain lime) can help with icy paths but remember to clean off the paws upon arrival at your door. Check your pet’s feet DAILY for sores or open areas. If he is walked outside of your yard, wash the foot pads to clear away deicing products. Unsalted sand, dirt and spent cold fireplace ashes can help with icy paths but remember to clean off the paws upon arrival at the door.


Note: Fireplace ashes contain lime. Anti-freeze usually contains ethylene-glycol or similar unsafe chemicals which are toxic for pets. It is said these products have a sweet taste which pets seem to be drawn to. Watch for places where these chemicals are stored, used or may have spilled.


Winter Dog Potty Invention:  A friend of mine has three small Boston Terriers and lives where the temperatures are very cold, sometimes for weeks on end. He is elderly and did not want to fall or have his dogs soiling his house so he built a potty area for his pups. I call it the Randy Potty.


He used some lumber, a shallow plastic pan and Astro turf and made a square which holds the plastic pan. Then he took some plastic covered wire and stretched it over the frame for the bottom which he then covered with pieces of astro turf. The turf and pans are easily obtainable and replaceable. He trained the dogs to relieve themselves on this potty. When the weather is severe he places the device in a sheltered area in a breezeway/porch enclosure and when the “Randy Potty” is used it is easily cleaned and the waste disposed of.


Some breeds were designed to survive in nature and can be resilient and tough but where I live the winter weather can be tougher. It is your responsibility to provide protection, so I hope this has helped you to prevent hypothermia and other cold weather hazards for your pets. EST 1998 2002



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