Whether it's trimming the fur on their paws, buying snow booties, or staying in, here's how to keep dogs happy in the winter wonderland.
It's snowing! And the dogs are going crazy, playing in the powder, pouncing on the drifts, chasing and then losing balls made of snow. They love having something new to play with and will enjoy interacting with the white stuff. Well, most of them. These days, not all dogs are 'designed' for these conditions in the way their ancestors were.
Recent research has found that all dogs descend from Siberian Wolves, in around 21,000BC. Previously it was known that dogs evolved from a wolf population somewhere in Asia or Europe, but DNA and archaeological evidence now pinpoints your pooches ancestor to Ice Age eastern Siberia.
So, you'd think dogs should be well equipped for the cold weather and a bit of snow but they've come a long way since howling at the moon and partnering up with humans. They've been bred into all shapes and sizes, with long coats and short coats, and some dogs don't cope with the big freeze as well as others.
Short-haired breeds like Staffies, Greyhounds, Dobermans and Pugs are more likely to feel the cold than a rough-coated Collie, for instance, or a double-coated Husky, GSD or Akita. And, depending on where you live and how cold it gets, a warm winter coat is a wise investment, as dogs can experience hyperthermia, too.
But there are other issues to consider when enjoying the snow with your dog.
Here are a handful of tips to keep your little wolf safe and happy in the winter wonderland:
After generations of domestication and living in warm houses, most dogs just aren't accustomed to the cold weather, and some really don't enjoy it. Often this is due to cold feet and they'll show their discomfort when walking in the snow by lifting their paws up or refusing to move.
Their feet might be too cold for comfort, and it might be worth considering some winter booties.
Not only will these mitigate the effect of the cold but grippy rubber soles also help prevent any injuries from slipping on ice while zooming around. If your dog has long fur around their legs and feet, like Schnauzers of Yorkies, balls of ice can collect on their paws and cause pain and discomfort, so choosing a pair of boots with a high sock for extra protection would be a wise choice.
Groom before zoom
A cheaper option, if you do it yourself, is to trim the fur from around your dog's paws to prevent ice clogging incidents. But be sure to check between their pads and toes if you see them lifting their paws as ice balls here can be quite painful.
Salt and grit
Another benefit of booties is protecting your dog's feet from the salt and grit that is spread on paths and pavements at this time of year. This can cause discomfort and irritate their pads, and you don't really want them licking them clean either. So, if they've shunned the idea of some new sneakers, be sure to clean their feet when you get home to get rid of any nasty detritus.
Too old for the cold?
As mentioned, short-haired pooches will still feel the cold, and a winter coat, if you live in the northern hemisphere, is an essential accessory, even if only for a few days of the year. My Rumble has a decent long coat (his fur, I mean), but we still have two jackets, one insulated winter coat that is only used in the coldest conditions, and the other a lighter, waterproof jacket for a typical British summer!
If you have an older dog, a nice insulated coat, with full-length covering to protect those creaking hips is a must. Check out our post on gear for older dogs to help choose a coat for older hounds. The post also includes our review of the excellent YuMove pet supplement which I swear by for older dogs and those with current or potential hip and joint problems. My young dog is on them for preventative reasons as he has hip dysplasia and will suffer in his later years.
If your dog is at the age when arthritis has started to set in, it might be best to just stay indoors. Particularly harsh conditions might mean staying in even if your dog is young, so you're going to need to entertain them indoors to keep them from going stir crazy. We put together a post on keeping dogs busy and stimulated with our top ten interactive toys.
Adjust their diet
One other point to consider is reducing your dog's food intake during months when their activity is reduced. In the summer you can feel Rumble's ribs, which is ideal weight (you should be able to feel them, but not necessarily see them) because he is so active. But now he has a decent winter layer of meat on his bones, and I cut down the food in his bowl, but then I tend to fill his interactive toys with kibble to keep him busy during dark nights indoors. Try doing the same, using things like snuffle mats to keep them busy while getting their food.
So, wrap them up, go out, enjoy the snow, keep your dog's feet free of ice, and clean them when you get home. And if you play ball most nights as Rumble and I do, you might want to invest in one of these glow in the dark balls, as I'm about to do, after losing two balls in the snow this week! Stay warm, and stay upright.