We got a sneak-peek at Winter today. It’s only the second full week of Fall, but the temperatures have dropped to the 40′s, there is double-digit snow in the mountains, and here in Denver we got a solid dusting turning the grass white. Tonight there is a freeze warning and we’ve all been reminded to disconnect hoses, drain sprinkler pipes, and most importantly – bring any animals indoors. We’ll get Fall again. It’ll climb back into the 70′s and it’ll all melt around here, but it does give us all a heads-up to start thinking about our favorite four-legged furry friends and the dangers associated with Winter weather. Here are some basics.
1. It’s getting cold. Dogs can get frostbite and hypothermia just like humans do. In general, at least compared to humans, dogs are much tougher and certainly more resilient than any of us. This is painfully obvious given the simple fact that while in the Summer we put on shorts and t-shirts, and then in the Winter we bundle up with hats, gloves, boots, and jackets, our little buddies go out the door in the same outfit year-round. For the most part (again, consult with your vet about your particular dog’s health and abilities to deal with extreme temperatures), if it’s just cold but dry, it’s generally safe to assume that your dog can handle being out for their normal walk and activity. Put it this way, whatever you can handle, they can. However, if it’s wet on the ground or rain and snow is falling down, that time of exposure will be greatly reduced. Most dogs have great coats and can withstand quite a bit, but getting wet is always an exponential factor and it’s best to drastically limit exposure when moisture is involved.
2. Ice. Ice really, really sucks for dogs. I can tell you right now, that without a doubt, I’ll see no less than six stories with aerial coverage of one of the local fire departments trying to rescue a dog that has fallen through a frozen lake or pond. Ideally, the dog is saved and a lesson is learned, but it doesn’t always work out this way. This is completely inexcusable and completely avoidable. It happens when an off-leash dog chases after a duck or goose and hits thin ice. DO NOT HAVE YOUR DOG OFF LEASH IF IT IS NOT UNDER VOICE AND SIGHT CONTROL. This means, yes, you have to train your dog. I had the best and smartest dog ever, and could stop her cold in her tracks with just a word, but IF, and ONLY IF, I saw what she was going to chase first. So when we walked through town, as good as she was, she was still on leash so I didn’t have to worry about a cat or squirrel taking her across a busy street.
3. Slippery Surfaces. Falling through ice is bad enough, but just slipping on it or any slippery surface covered in snow or cold rain can also be a danger. If you’ve ever played fetch with your dog, you have likely seen them sprint off from a standstill to a complete run in a moment. They do this by launching with their hind legs. If those legs are atop slick grass or they hit a small bit of ground ice while running, they can easily blow their ACL and you’re looking at not only a dog in a lot of pain and essentially broken leg, but at least a $3,500 vet bill. Don’t have your dog running around on slick surfaces.
4. De-icer and salt. Man do I hate this stuff. Those little chemical granules that your neighbors or local businesses put out on their walks to help eliminate ice can get between the pads on your dogs paw and either cut or chemically burn between the pads. This is bad news. If you see it on the ground, treat it like broken glass and do your best to navigate your dog around the treated areas. There is some pet-friendly alternatives, but it’s hard to tell the difference when you’re walking along.
That covers the major hazards associated with the Winter weather. Oh, and for those of you who noticed in the photo that my dog is indeed fetching a ball and there is snow on the ground, please know that we have a strict set of rules and routine associated with this activity. The grass is still green and tall, snow is minimal, and nothing is frozen just yet. Most importantly, I don’t let them run from a standstill or off a slick surface like our deck.