Sometimes, a sunny, 45-degree day is the reminder we need to know that winter won’t last forever. But don’t let a mild day in January erase your responsibilities as a dog owner. As this last week proved, winter always returns, meaning your dogs will have to endure several more weeks of a colder climate. In a previous column, we looked at ways to keep your dog’s paws safe and warm when it’s cold outside. This week, we’ll look at other aspects caring for your dog during these winter months.  

Mind your back—and theirs 

Coats are a dog’s friend. You don’t have to go all American-Girl-Doll and buy matching winter parkas for you and your pooch, but it’s important to keep your dog’s spine covered when he’s outside. Obviously, heartier and cold-weather bred dogs aren’t as bothered by the cold. In fact, a lot of dogs embrace the snow, but a coat can help keep them warm and protect their bodies from the wind. If you’re not sure if you should provide your pooch with an extra layer of warmth this winter, go back to the simple rule: If you’re cold, it’s a good bet that your dog is cold, too. 

Still, coats should be worn outdoors, not inside. In fact, it’s a good idea to remove all outer layers when dogs re-enter the house since they often have a hard time self-regulating their body temperatures. Don’t let them get used to an extra layer of warmth in your home. Of course, if you have a small dog and a cold house, a winter sweater is a good thing. 

Also, it’s important to remember that a cold-weather coat can tangle and mat your dog’s fur so make sure you continue to brush your her often, even when it’s cold outside.

Cold advice

Now that your dog’s sporting the latest in canine outerwear, here are a few more cold-weather tips: 

  • While a lot of owners like to let their dog’s winter coat grow out, it’s important to continue to groom their paws since they can be vulnerable to ice, salt and debris. 
  • Your dog’s nails might appear longer in the winter. That’s because sidewalks, which usually help wear down your dog’s nails, are often covered in snow and ice, removing a natural grooming tool from your dog’s daily beautification routine. 
  • Keep your dog hydrated, especially if your house is dry during the winter. Put out an extra bowl of water, maybe near where your dog sleeps. Hint: If you see your dog eating snow, there’s a good chance she’s thirsty. 
  • Watch out for coyotes. If you’re used to letting your dog roam around in your yard unattended, you might want to join him when it’s cold outside. If not, keep a watchful eye on them from a window when they’re in the yard. 
  • Dogs experience cabin fever like the rest of us. If they’re cooped up for an extended number of days or weeks, be sure to take them out on the weekends for some quality time at the park or send them to a doggie daycare during a weekday so they can burn off some of that energy.
  • Dogs are affected by the changes in daylight, but mostly because we’re affected by them. If we do things differently around the house because it gets dark outside earlier., our dogs are affected as well. And don’t deny their commitment to a routine. They might be bothering you for dinner earlier than usual if they’re used to being fed when the sun’s still up. Imagine their confusion when it’s dark at 5 p.m. and they still haven’t eaten. You don’t have to serve them the 4 p.m. Senior Dinner Special but you should adjust their feeding schedule if the rest of their day has been modified during winter. 

By taking a few precautions, you can be sure your dog is happy and healthy this winter. Don’t let the cold weather keep you and your four-legged friend inside until April. A nice walk with your dog on a sunny day will do you both some good. And don’t worry, spring will be here soon enough. 

Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to over 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners. 

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