As soon as the mercury begins its slippery slide down to lower temps, most of us dig out winter wear, moisture-inducing lotions and other cold clime accoutrements. But what steps should dog owners take throughout the winter to care for their pets? Local veterinarians weigh in with helpful reminders to keep dogs healthy and happy throughout the season. We spoke with Brek W. Perry of Westgate Pet Clinic and Pete Magnuson, of Southdale Pet Hospital.
Edina Magazine: Admit it. Some of you out there give dog owners a judgy side-eye when you’ve seen dogs wearing footwear. Is it a fashion statement, or do dogs really need to wear winter boots?
Brek W. Perry, DVM, of Westgate Pet Clinic: “For some dogs yes—not all dogs. It depends on what surface they’re going to be on and the nature of their paws.”
EM: What can pet owners do to care for pets’ footpads?
BP: In addition to boots, he recommends petroleum jelly, specifically Musher’s Secret.
EM: Should pet owners “salt” their sidewalks or driveways?
BP: While there are pet-friendly, ice-reducing products out there, Perry says they can still irritate paws and pads. If necessary, treatment can include foot soaks, occasionally pain medications or antibiotics for secondary infections. Use petroleum jelly and/or boots as prevention.
EM: How cold is too cold to take a dog out for a walk?
BP: “It does really depend on the dog. For example, some breeds (huskies, for example) relish the cold, and their ability to withstand cold weather is amazing versus short-coated breeds that have minimal to no coat insulation.”
EM: What are the signs of frostbite?
BP: “Most often the ears and paws get frostbite. Head shaking or scratching at the ears is an indicator. Shifting leg lameness is an indicator the paws are getting frostbite. The area is often swollen, red and painful.”
EM: How do you treat it?
BP: “Move to a warm location, gradually warm the affected areas. In severe cases, pain medications are indicated. Rarely, surgery [is needed] to remove or debride necrotic tissue.”
EM: Can dogs still get ticks and fleas in the winter?
Pete Magnuson, DVM, Southdale Pet Hospital: “Dogs can get fleas and ticks in the winter. The current trend has been warmer temps during the winter with almost half of the days during the coldest months having temperatures above freezing; therefore, the ticks are actually active and able to infect during all the winter months.”
EM: Do dogs get dry skin in the winter?
PM: “Like humans, our pet’s skin can also become dry in the winter. Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier will help and adding omega 3 and 6 supplements may also help as a first line of defense to skin diseases year round.”
EM: For chocolate lovers, there’s no such thing as too much chocolate, but how about for dogs?
PM: “Any amount of dark chocolate is too much for dogs, and only small portions of dark chocolate can lead to life-threatening conditions. Chewing gum, or any product containing xylitol, are extremely toxic to dogs.”
EM: Speaking of dangerous items for dogs to ingest, let’s talk antifreeze. Are dogs attracted to it, and what are the warning signs of ingestion?
BP: “Yes, it tastes sweet.” Warning signs include gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, lethargy) and drinking large amounts of liquid and urinating a lot. Antifreeze is hard on pets’ kidneys.
Good to Know: Many of us pack on extra pounds over the winter, and pets can fall into the same caloric crisis. If a pet isn’t getting the same amount of physical activity as during warmer months, Perry recommends reducing food amounts.