Contributed by: Sloan McKinney
With winter in full swing, those of us in northern climates are accustomed to bundling up to stay warm. Protective gear like hats, gloves and boots keep our extremities safe, and it’s easy to assume that our pets are built for any weather conditions; that they’re not particularly affected by the cold.
Some dog breeds like the Alaskan Husky and Alaskan Malamute are very well-adapted to snowy and icy conditions. They have developed special features over the centuries that help to keep them warmer during winter months. But all dogs don’t share these same traits, and it’s up to us to make sure our furry friends stay safe and comfortable when temperatures drop.
Protecting Their Paws
Huskies and many different types of terriers have thick fur that grows around their feet and paw pads, which helps to keep them better insulated from the elements. But this can be a risk as well as a reward when it comes to keeping them warm. For example, this fur can become matted, build up debris like mud, rocks, snow and ice.
Be sure to regularly check these areas and dry them off after they’ve come inside from the elements. When drying your dog’s feet and fur, be careful when using forced heat from a hair dryer as this could cause damage to their often sensitive skin. An easy way to remove snowballs and ice from your dog’s paws is to gently rinse them in cool or lukewarm water. (Do NOT use hot water or rub their skin!) This is also a great way to remove any salt or chemicals from their paws that they may have picked up from sidewalks and roads, which not only irritates their paws, but can be very dangerous if ingested.
The easiest way to prevent damage to their paws is with booties specially designed for their smaller and more delicate feet. There are many different options to choose from, and some may be specially designed for warmth, or to be waterproof, or non-slip, or specifically made for snow and ice. Check with your local pet supply store and ask for their recommendations for your dog and the activities you plan ton do outdoors. If you will be purchasing these type of boots for your pet, be sure to use a sizing chart to get just the right fit.
A Canadian Compound
The application of petroleum jelly can also help before and after exposure to the elements, but
leave it to the folks up North to come up with a specialized solution that’s meant to protect sled dog’s feet from the cold. Called the Musher’s Secret, this all natural blend of food grade waxes provides a breathable barrier against the elements for your dog’s sensitive paws.
BONUS: Keep An Eye On Their Ears & Diet
Alaskan Huskies, Malamutes and other breeds who are more accustomed to being in the cold, have more hair in and around their ears, which acts like a natural ear muff. This extra barrier of fur helps to block out cold air, wind, snow and ice from entering the ear canal. Just like the extra hair found around their paws, owners should regularly check these areas for debris, signs of infection or irritation. Dogs lose a lot of body heat through their ears, and one way to protect them is to dress them in a coat with a hood, or a snood made specifically for dogs. Snoods are like long neck warmers that can pull up over their ears and keep them warm, like this one from Gold Paw Series: https://www.goldpawseries.com/product/snood/
Any sign of excessive moisture, odor, redness, swelling or sensitivity on their paws, ears, or any other area, is reason for an immediate trip to see your veterinarian. Also check with your dog’s doctor to see if adding more calories to their diet might be in order during colder winter months. Dogs burn off more energy and could be in need of more food to stay warm when it’s colder outside.
In fact, sled dogs in particular will often consume triple or even quadruple the calories they normally do when training or racing. Whether your dog is a professional athlete or a casual couch potato, we can still ensure they’re kept safe and warm this winter.