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Winter Care for the Outdoor Dog

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Some people, due to space limitations or personal preference, choose to keep their dog outdoors. In areas where winters can be harsh, these pets need special care. Even though the dog lives outdoors, you should prevent your dog from roaming through the neighborhood. A fenced-in yard works well, but if this is not possible, keeping your dog on a long tie-out can also restrict unwanted roaming.

Housing and Shelter

In the winter, adequate shelter is essential to provide warmth and keep the dog dry. Dogs need to have a comfortable and safe place to escape the cold snow and harsh chilling winds. A large doghouse with blankets or straw bedding works well. Make sure the opening to the doghouse is not facing the wind. Some people choose to equip the doghouse with heat. This should be professionally done. Heating pads or heating lights powered by electric cords is not recommended. Curious dogs can chew the cords and create a serious hazard.

The bedding within the doghouse will need to be changed periodically. The straw can become moldy and the blankets can become dirty and wet. Moldy straw can create a variety of skin and respiratory problems. Dirty and wet blankets can make the dog very uncomfortable and lead to illness.

Grooming

Keeping your outdoor dog regularly groomed will help maintain a healthy hair coat and provide proper insulation. Shorthaired dogs will have a difficult time in cold weather and it is not recommended to keep these breeds outdoors. Long thick hair coats provide excellent insulation but mats and debris caught in the hair will diminish the insulation effect. Keep the coat brushed and free of mats.

Feeding

Dogs kept outdoors in the winter will use more energy to keep their body temperature regulated. In order to keep your dog healthy, extra calories will be needed to supply the extra energy. Make sure your dog is offered a good quality dog food. Offering more food in the winter will help supply the extra calories.

Water is also important in the winter. Provide fresh water daily. Snow and ice are not acceptable substitutes for fresh water. Check the water every so often to make sure it hasn't frozen over.

Health Concerns

In the wintertime, dogs are more susceptible to illness. Carefully monitor your dog to catch any illness early. Frostbite is a potential hazard, especially for dogs not offered proper housing. The tips of the ears, tail and feet are particularly susceptible.

Exposure to salt and ice melts can be a hazard if these products are used near the dog. The dog may walk in the salt and ingest some while licking paws. Ingestion of salt or other products used to melt ice can lead to gastrointestinal upset, burns of the esophagus or stomach or burns on the pads of the feet.

Exposure to cold weather, especially associated with high winds, can result in a low body temperature. Hypothermia can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Keep all automotive items away from your dog. Many people change antifreeze in the fall; exposure to antifreeze can be deadly. Make sure your dog is safely confined away from any toxic or dangerous chemicals.
Veterinary Care

Annual physical exams are very important in the outdoor dog. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of illness is important. Make sure your outdoor dog is adequately protected from disease by vaccination. Have your dog checked for intestinal parasites and properly dewormed.

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