Cold weather and dogs

You can still enjoy the great outdoors with your dog after the snow flies. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Don’t expect to cover the same numbers of miles that you would in the summer or even the fall. Your gear is going to be heavier, it’s colder and all in all, you’re going to be working a lot harder in the winter.
  • Try to get her to follow in your tracks, especially if you are on snowshoes. Some dogs won’t do this but others will. It’ll wear her out a lot less quickly.
  • Dogs need extra calories when working out in the cold weather. Try to feed a higher fat content food, puppy chow or similar feed when on a trip for several days. For a day trip, a snack like Zuke’s would be great. It probably wouldn’t hurt to double what you give in the summer. Keep dog snacks, as well as your own, inside your jacket to keep them from getting too hard to chew.
  • Like you, Fido will need to drink a lot of water when working in the snow. Don’t let him get all his liquids from eating snow. Melt his when you make yours. If he won’t drink, try “baiting” it with meat broth.
  • Protection from the elements is a must. Unless you have a Nordic breed, plan on buying a jacket for Lady. If you plan on traveling through deep snow, try to get a separate belly band that will protect your dog’s tummy from frostbite. Some jackets have this built in and still allow both males and females to urinate without removing the jacket. All dogs should have fleece booties available for use. Ice can ball up between their feet and do some serious damage. They’re also good to have around just for first aid and to protect feet from road salt. Try to carry several pairs so you can rotate wet or worn boots. To prevent iceballs with no boots, try spraying the paws with a non-stick cooking spray like Pam. If you plan camping overnight, make sure she has a foam pad to sleep on, preferably inside your shelter. You might even need to bring a quilt for your dog if it’s going to get really cold at night. Try to stay away from designer dog sweaters that are made of cotton. The polyester fleece jackets available from most mushing or dog-hiking outfitters are the best choice.
  • Keep an eye out for frostbite. Signs are flushed and reddened tissues, white or grayish tissues, evidence of shock and scaliness of skin and possible shedding of dead skin. The ears, paw pads and tail and groin are more frequently affected. Let’s hope your pet never experiences frostbite. If the unthinkable happens, please remember – frozen tissues should never be rubbed. This causes additional tissue damage. Prompt veterinary treatment is needed. If this is not possible, warm the affected area rapidly by immersing in warm, never hot, water or by using warm, moist towels that are changed frequently. As soon as the affected tissues become flushed, discontinue warming. Gently dry the affected tissues and lightly cover with a clean, dry, non-adhering bandage (enter, once again, VetWrap).
  • Also look for signs of hypothermia- drowsiness, shaking and stumbling (in people add slurred speech). As it gets worse, shivering may stop and the person or animal may lose conciousness and stop breathing. If unconsiousness occurs, gently move the victim to a shelter (quick movement or rough handling may upset the heart’s rhythm). If breathing stops give artificial respiration. Remove wet clothing (if any) and cover with warm, dry blankets. If the person is awake try to give them warm, sweet, uncaffinated drinks (dogs just the warm part). If unconscious, seek medical attention.
  • Always know where your towel is. It’s good to routinely wipe water off of Daisy, as well as later when she comes inside your tent. It would be good for you to have as well.
  • Think about taking a sled. There are some really cool sleds out there that allow you to pull while you snowshoe or X-C ski, but for starting out you don’t need that. Get a child’s plastic toboggan and pull your gear behind you with that- your load is heavier in the winter so you might want to do this anyway. Try to wrap everything in a tarp and lash it tightly to the sled, just to be on the safe side. If your dog is inclined, try letting her pull in a harness, even if only for short distances. You don’t have to run the Iditarod to have fun with this. It can also be used to transport an injured member of the party, should the need arise.
  • First Aid kits should have added to them for winter use- heat packs, candles, extra matches, an emergency blanket. For further information and training on how to provide first aid in any season, contact your local Red Cross chapter.
  • Other winter fun besides hiking are- sledding, skijor and pulk, snowshoeing, skiing, weight pull, or even ice-fishing! If you or your children are going out sledding or ice skating, don’t be afraid to take the dog along, just take a few measures of precaution.