As the snow starts piling up and temperatures fall, mountain residents bundle up and make sure they've got the proper boots and snow tires to get them through the winter. But what about our precious pups? A few local experts share their tips for keeping local dogs safe in the winter months.
Make sure dogs have water at all times, even outside in the snow. Sometimes people think snow can replace water, but because it's so dry, it's hard for dogs to take in enough to meet their hydration needs, said Dr. Ed Hastain, owner and head veterinarian at the Breckenridge Animal Clinic.
"They need to have water," he said.
A heated water bowl is always a good idea for pups spending a few hours outside, since normal bowls will freeze.
"I really feel that dogs are very tolerant of cold weather," Hastain said.
But dogs with short hair might not tolerate the cold as well as long-haired breeds, so sometimes a doggy jacket might be necessary. In really cold temperatures, boots may be needed to keep their feet comfortable.
Booties are especially a good idea when dogs are playing on the ice, according to Louisa Morrissey, owner of Skijor-n-More in Summit County, a dog sports and obedience school. Without them, owners risk their pets' paws getting cut.
Doggy shoes do keep a pup's feet protected, but when going without them in the snow, Morrissey has a few tips for dogs who tend to get snowballs in their paws: She clips the hair between the toes back "very, very carefully" and rubs in a thick oil called Musher's Secret before heading outside. It not only protects the paws but can be rubbed on the stomach to keep long fur from freezing.
"Most of the dogs around here are kept indoors most of the time and then out for activity, so they're not really used to being outdoors all the time in extremely cold weather," Hastain said. "Dogs that are typically kept inside need to be able to get into a good shelter where they can be warm and dry. Dry is the key because if they're wet, it transfers through their skin."
Dogs left outside for too long risk hypothermia, especially the old ones. And while it's extremely rare to see a frost-bitten foot, Hastain has seen a few nipped ears.
"The biggest safety tip is don't run into your dog with your skis on," Morrissey said. "A lot of the vets around here see a lot of cuts."
If skiing with a dog, be aware of where it is and be able to stop and change direction if necessary.
"If I'm going downhill ... I will have my dogs behind me on a follow so I don't risk running into them," Morrissey said.
"Old dogs that are having any trouble getting around could get stuck in a snowdrift and struggle to the point where they just get exhausted," Hastain said. "Those guys would be at risk of having severe problems, even dying of hypothermia, in that situation."
Running in deep powder often could cause problems for a pup; the vets in Summit see many more shoulder problems and tendinitis than those in Denver. Back-leg and knee problems tend to occur when the snow starts to get a crust and dogs hyperextend their legs.
Adjust a dog's diet based on the amount of activity it's getting, Hastain said. If it's expending more calories than usual running through snow, it may need more food.
Morrissey warns owners to avoid exercising dogs on a full stomach; a condition called bloat - or the flipping of intestines - could occur and is especially common in deep-chested breeds. Instead, Morrissey likes giving her pets bouillon cubes before heading outside to play - it helps keep their energy up.