Pet care in the winter
We need to keep our dogs fit and trim. The days are now shorter and it may become a chore to walk the dog after work in the dark – or even early in the morning when the cold is unbearable.
If our dogs are overweight or their exercise is limited, the amount of food we give them needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Ideally, we should switch to a less active food, which will have fewer calories and more fiber. Remember to feed your dog twice a day. Most of us overfeed our pets because of the guilt they place on us with those sad faces or the begging – which happen to be tricks we taught them to perform.
A cup of food is exactly that, not an empty coffee can.
On the back of the bag of most dog foods you can find the measured amount to feed your dog according to weight. Split that amount into morning and evening meals. Decrease that amount slightly if your dog is on a diet, or switch to the “light” dog food.
Remember: all treats add calories, so feed low-fat treats. Even cooked veggies are good).
Many of our dogs are arthritic, or may have some degree of hip dysplasia – especially larger dogs. So the cold weather may bring upon more pain and joint stiffness. Arthritis medication and exercise is very important on a regular basis. Amount and difficulty of exercise varies according to how fit and healthy your dog is. Older dogs tend to have some arthritis.
Exercise does not mean running your dog behind the snowmobile at 40 mph or following you on a four hour cross-country trail for a first winter work out. You need to gradually work up to a challenging routine, as you would do so yourself.
Dogs, especially Labradors, are willing to follow you anywhere and for as long as you want. Running in the snow, especially if it’s deep, is more strenuous on them. They can’t rationalize and consider they will not be able to get out of bed the following morning. So start out slow, maybe a mellow snowshoe, a walk around the golf course, or a short run; gradually increase the amount and intensity of exercise.
If your dog seems stiff or in pain, following some rigorous activity. There are some medications you can give. Never use Tylenol, ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories, as these may cause severe gastro-intestinal problems in your dog. Only aspirin is safe – if it coated, such as Ascription or Bufferin. The dose varies according to weight.
One anti-inflammatory that is safe in dogs is Riymadyl, but it is dispensed only by veterinarians.
Remember to have your dog on oral glucosamine (glycoflex), if there is any history of arthritis.
If you have a long-haired dog or one who tends to grow hair in between the digits, try to keep that hair trimmed or shaved down. This will avoid the accumulation of snow balls attached to the hair, causing the toes to spread out and the skin to split and bleed. If you have a dog with a minimum-hair coat and sensitive skin, then you might need to put booties on its paws.
Dogs can be left outdoors during the day.
Most dogs can tolerate the cold well. However, some dogs that have been kept inside warm homes may not be able to spend a full cold day in the yard if the temp drops too low. Use common sense; make sure there is a doggy house with a blanket, maybe a heated one, and plenty of water (not frozen).
Ideally, there’s a “doggy door” into the garage or home.
We forget sometimes our dogs grow old, get cold or are not up for hours of exercise. They try to please us and want to follow us anywhere. So we need to think for them intelligently and keep them comfortable.
Editor’s note: Dr. Nadine Lober can be reached at 949-7972.