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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Getting Ready For Winter

Here in the northern hemisphere we're gearing up for winter.  Some parts of the US have already seen an unusually early snow storm, though it won't be the last.  As the weather cools down and snow and ice loom we have to take a look at how we care for our pets.  Which brings us to this question from Sam.....

My dog refuses to wear booties but NEEDS a daily walk even in winter. My friend swears that using Vaseline on his paws before a walk will protect them from ice balls and salt. I would wipe them off after the walk but am not sure how safe this is. What would you advise a client regarding Vaseline? Also, when is it too cold. Anything below 0•F?

First, just to point out to everyone, the pads of a dog's feet can be very sensitive.  Yes, as they age the pads thicken but we still have to be concerned about their feet, especially in cold weather.  The traditional salts used to de-ice driveways and sidewalks can be very irritating to the skin and can cause gastrointestinal upset if swallowed.  In sub-freezing temperatures you can also get damage from ice due to the severe cold, or irritation from balls of snow and ice getting trapped in the fur between the pads and toes.  So these are legitimate concerns.

I really like using booties for dogs, as they are specifically designed to protect the paws against many different kinds of irritants or damage.  Rescue dogs often wear them when going into areas of rubble and debris.  But I do realize that some dogs simply won't tolerate them.  The first thing I'd do, Sam, is work with your dog with the booties.  Put them on and let him stay in the house.  Give him praise and a treat if he lays there without trying to take them off.  If he starts walking around without problems, give him more rewards and treats.  Most dogs can become accustomed to booties, but it's not natural to them so it's common for them to try and get them off.

If this doesn't work, you can try the Vaseline.  Personally I've never heard it used this way, but this and other petrolium jellies are pretty harmless, even if swallowed.  Some of my readers may have more experience using it this way and could give opinions.  But I certainly don't think that it would hurt, even if he swallows small amounts.

As far as being too cold I think it depends on the dog and the temperature.  Certainly anything below freezing can potentially be dangerous, and the farther you get below freezing the greater the risk increases.  I don't think that most dogs should be left outside for long periods of times in sub-freezing temperatures.  The breed is also important, and the coat of a dog like a Siberian husky is going to be more protective that that of a chihuahuah.  The size of the pet is also important, as larger pets have a smaller surface area to body weight ratio, enabling them to maintain their body temperature more easily (this is why you tend to see larger animals in the Arctic and smaller ones in the desert).  So a small short-haired dog would suffer adverse effects more quickly than a large thick-coated dog.  Use your best judgement, but I do realize that most dogs need to go outside at least a little bit each day, even in cold weather.