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Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Fur coat not enough to protect dogs in cold winter weather


Writing this before Groundhog Day, I suspect Punxsutawney Phil will have seen his shadow, so we'll be looking at another six weeks of winter, despite the spring-like temperatures last week. So it's a good time to review some winter recommendations and care tips.

If, like mine, your dog doesn't love the snow, it's helpful to clear paths through your yard for your dog (and for the meter reader and fuel delivery man - they'll appreciate it, too!). Dogs can relieve themselves while "sitting" in the snow, but how much kinder it is if they don't have to.

Depending on the amount of snow in your area, you also might need to keep your yard fence perimeter clear, so the snow doesn't get so high a dog can easily clear the fence.

Short-haired breeds, puppies and older dogs need extra care in cold weather. A wide variety of sweaters, coats and polar fleece jackets are available for dogs of all sizes. Size is irrelevant as to whether a dog needs protection from the cold: A large, short-haired dog feels the cold more than a small, heavy-coated dog. Being a large macho breed doesn't mean the dog can tolerate the cold.

Dogs can get frostbite, especially on their extremities - nose, ears, feet and tail. Extreme cold affects a dog's feet. You might notice that your dog limps in the cold. If so, bring your dog indoors, or if you're planning to stay outside, put boots on your dog. I just bought some fleece-lined boots for my dog Kochi (yes, fleece-lined dog booties). At first, he walked like a cat stepping in a puddle - picking up and shaking off each foot. It didn't take too long for him to get used to them. Some of the most athletic dogs in the world - those that run the thousand-mile Iditarod race across Alaska - wear protective boots, so don't think it's just for "wuss" dogs.

It's important to protect your dog's feet from ice treatments on sidewalks and streets. Not just painful, an ice treatment's chemicals can be absorbed through the skin or your dog might lick his feet - neither of which is healthy. If your dog isn't wearing boots, rinse and dry his feet when you get home. I haven't yet tried a commercial product called "Musher's Secret," but from what I've read, it seems good.

For your own sidewalks and steps, there are dog-friendly products such as "Safe Paw," which is what we use at All Dogs Gym for our walks. A home remedy I read about (but haven't tried myself yet) is to mix a teaspoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol in a half-gallon of warm or hot water and pour it on your steps. I've been told that it doesn't refreeze.

Speaking of your dog's feet, snow and ice can painfully build up between the pads. Long-haired dogs can also have an uncomfortable build-up of matted hair, easily prevented by having a professional groomer trim between your dog's foot pads. It's best not to do this yourself as you can easily cut your dog's foot - an area that is difficult to heal.

I'm not a fan of dogs living outside, but if you have an outdoor dog - even just for part of the day - be sure he has adequate, warm shelter. It's not just for your dog's safety, health and well-being, it's the law.

Most dogs seek out warmth, curling up close to wood stoves and in front of fireplaces. Be sure to screen any heating element that could burn your dog or worse still, set his hair on fire. Protect your dog as you would a toddler.

And finally, a reminder that antifreeze is highly toxic. Ingesting even a small amount can cause a rapid and painful death. Antifreeze has a sweet odor and taste, making it attractive to animals and children, so it's critically important to keep containers out of reach and wipe up any leaks or spills immediately.


Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a column topic, email gail@alldogsgym.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns are on her website.



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