GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Your dog may have a fur coat, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can handle the bitter cold and winds Mother Nature batters us with in winter.
“Pet attire,” such as a coat or sweater and booties, provides the extra protection most dogs need to avoid the harmful, sometimes life-threatening, effects of extreme cold, according to a veterinarian.
Unless your dog has a thick heavy coat, she could benefit from outerwear to protect against the harmful, sometimes life-threatening, effects of extreme cold, said Dr. Katie Brose with Peterson Veterinary Clinic in East Grand Forks, Minn. “Just things to keep their core warm.”
Owners should be concerned about their pets’ feet too, she said.
“If you’re walking in an area where the homeowner uses a de-icer on the walks, not all of those (products) are pet-friendly. The salt can cause soreness between (the dog’s) toes and lead to irritation.
“Those issues go away with cleaning the paw.”
Keeping dogs warm, and their paws protected, is important, Brose said, because, unlike humans, dogs don’t have sweat glands; one of the ways they dispel heat is through their feet (the other is panting).
Mark Mayer, general manager of Petco in Grand Forks said he’s having trouble keeping winter pet-care items, especially footwear, in stock.
“I tell people, imagine yourself standing outside barefoot right now,” he said.
“If the dog is going to be out longer than 5 or 10 minutes, 15 minutes tops, I recommend protection on the feet.”
For dogs, the severe cold and de-icing salt sprinkled on walkways make venturing outside potentially dangerous, he said. “The cold is going to do more damage to their paws than anything else.
“At 20 below, even if (you’re outside) just for a short time, it’s not a bad idea to put on boots” on your dog.
Ashley Bester, customer service advisor at Petco, said, “I’ve had people tell me that once (the dogs) realize booties keep their feet warm, they put up with them a little better.”
She has seen owners of small-breed dogs, Labradors and golden retrievers buy footwear at the store, she said.
Advice Brose gives pet owners about dog garments and footwear “would depend on the type of dog,” she said.
“Short-haired dogs, such as Chihuahuas, would benefit from outerwear. Greyhounds need a jacket.”
On the other hand, “arctic breeds, such as huskies and malamutes, don’t really need protection,” she said. These breeds, “or any breed with a real thick fur coat, such as a chow,” can handle extremely cold temperatures.
“But even these breeds might need foot protection, especially if they’re out for a long time …
Outdoor temperatures, the wind chill factor and how much time the dog spends outdoors influence what accessories are needed, she said.
“If you lead an active lifestyle, if you do a lot of hiking or you’re an ice fisherman, and your dog goes with you, booties would be important.”
“Small-breed dogs and toy breeds are not equipped for our climate,” he said. Short-coated breeds are the dogs that really need it.
“Dogs under 20 or 25 pounds are not going to do well in our extreme weather,” he said.
“Breeds such as Newfoundland, malamute and husky — any breed with a big heavy oil coat — thrive in this weather.”
To help them withstand winter conditions, dogs should be fed “a high-fat, high-protein diet to build up their body fat,” he said, which acts as an insulator and traps heat.
Petco carries several styles of footwear for dogs, Mayer said, including rubber-coated socks that keep paws dry and a heavier-duty fleece-lined sock, with rubberized grips on the soles, which is recommended for dogs that spend more time outdoors and on icy surfaces.
Another product that “looks like a boot” has fleece lining and rubber soles and is intended for long-duration use outdoors, he said.
Socks and boots range in price from $20 to $40 a pair, Bester said.
Pet owners could improvise by using infants’ socks or cast-off sweat socks, secured with Velcro, as dog booties, Mayer said.
“You could even use gauze or athletic (bandage)” to wrap your dog’s feet. The goal is to choose, or craft, products “that protect the dog from being cold and wet.”
Frigid weather “dries out the paw real bad,” he said. Because of the resulting irritation, the dog’s “natural instinct is to start licking (the foot pad), and that makes it worse. Then, it breaks open.
“The dog’s tongue surface is rough; licking takes away any dry skin and chafes it even worse.”
Rough or cracked foot pads are best treated with petroleum jelly or a mineral oil-rich lotion, like Vaseline, he said. “The skin absorbs it very well; it has healing power.”
So does a thick mineral-oil cream, like “bag balm” or “udder balm,” he said.
Dogs that are unaccustomed to wearing garments or booties could be less than excited about the prospect, Brose said. “Not all dogs do well with booties.”
She recommends taking your dog to the store “to try them on and find the appropriate size, if the store allows it.”
Dogs’ tolerance of outerwear varies, she said.
“Most dogs adjust well to a coat or jacket. Some are not going to tolerate it at all. It just depends on your dog’s personality.”
The dog’s age may also affect his readiness to accept outerwear, she said.
“Starting them off younger is probably better.”
When fitted with booties, dogs lose their ability to feel the surface beneath them, Mayer said. “They’ll do a little dance, and want to get them off …
“Getting the dog to keep the booties on is the trick. It may take ingenuity to keep them on (but) most dogs will take to them very well.”
He suggests putting the booties on your dog inside the home, “because if they kick them off, at least you can find them. They won’t be lost in the snow.”
Have the dog wear the booties for about an hour at a time, if possible, he said.
And if you discover that your dog has a sense of style, don’t worry.
“We offer everything from practical to the very fashionable in coats and jackets,” Mayer said, “from the plain-Jane blanket-type jacket to parkas with fur-lined hoods.”
KEEPING DOGS WARM DURING EXTREME COLD
Dogs are vulnerable to the same effects of extreme cold — hypothermia and frostbite — as humans, said Dr. Katie Brose, a veterinarian with Peterson Veterinary Clinic in East Grand Forks, Minn.
A low body temperature, “anything under 99 degrees,” in dogs that have been exposed to cold, would be an indication of hypothermia, “if somebody were to take their temperature,” she said.
A more obvious sign is shivering, she said. “That’s the first thing you’d notice.”
Other signs include weakness, a slowed heart rate and slow shallow breathing, Brose said. The dog may seem “kind of depressed and have stiff muscles and a slowed heart rate.”
In the most serious cases, the pet owner “would find the dog in a coma or dead.”
If frostbite is suspected, Brose said, pet parents should look for signs of discoloration in the paws, tail and ears due to lack of blood supply.
In the severe cases, “I usually see dark pink or a purpley color” and evidence of a frozen limb, toes, tail or ear, she said.
She has seen dogs whose ears or tail “are black or falling off” due to frostbite.
Dogs that are typically not housed indoors still need adequate shelter, Brose advised.
“In our climate, when it’s frigidly cold, dogs need shelter to get out of the elements,” she said, “shelter that’s insulated and protected from the wind, at the very least.”
Mark Mayer, general manager of Petco in Grand Forks, N.D., said, “I try to have a pretty in-depth conversation with customers who think dogs are OK in this weather. Without proper shelter, it’s not fair to the animals. People are very mistaken if they think (dogs) can survive without shelter …”