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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Winter is coming, and that means we need to be aware of the weather changes with our pets. Here in the US there are huge differences in weather, from Maine to the Dakotas, Florida to Oregon, California to Georgia. But regardless of where you live there are some guidelines to remember. Most of our pets, especially dogs, aren't really well designed for living outside. We've bred them to be dependent on us, and often have bred coats that don't do well in cold weather. Smaller breeds are especially at risk for this.

Most dogs can do well outside, though long-haired breeds are much more likely to have problems with matted fur. However, dogs that aren't arctic breeds shouldn't be outside in cold weather. A dog house with fresh straw or hay is needed to help keep them warm and well-insulated. The bedding should be changed regularly to keep it clean and hygenic and to prevent insects and parasites from growing. Outside dogs should also have shelter from rain or other precipitation. Don't use heaters in dog houses, as they are a potential fire risk, and we definitely don't want that to happen!

As a rule of thumb, I tell my clients that if the weather is going to dip to freezing or below, pets should be brought inside. Certain breeds, such as huskies, malamutes, St. Bernards, and other thick-furred dogs can do well outside in cold weather with appropriate bedding and insulation. But most breeds cannot tolerate these temperatures, especially small dogs or breeds with short hair. I know that many people have kept dogs outside year-round, so I can't completely argue that. But often that is in warmer climates, or they have very well insulated dog enclosures. The average pet owner likely isn't going to have good preparations for that.

What if your dog is large, or messy, or particularly rowdy and you simply cannot or are not willing to bring it inside your house? Well, a garage is always an option, and is going to be warmer and have better conditions than being outside. If you still can't or won't do that, I'd have to be blunt and ask why you have a dog (again, I can be more direct here than with my own clients). As a pet owner, you have a responsibility to provide them with proper care. Pets can also be extremely rewarding, and bring a lot of joy, fun, comfort, and companionship. If a dog is simply going to be outside all of the time, you might want to seriously think about why you have it.

Now, those of you who have kennels with many dogs for breeding or hunting, I'm not really talking about you. I know plenty of people with these circumstances that interact with and train their dogs daily, and give them excellent care. Admittedly some people simply have so many dogs that it's impossible to bring them all inside. In that situation, make sure they have appropriate places to stay when outside.

The weather is getting colder, and we need to think about our little fuzzy friends. Take care of them and think about whether or not you would want to sleep outside during the winter.