Winter's Ten Commandments: Do's & Don'ts for the Cold Season

Photo: Waldo Jaquith

The winter chill hit the Bay Area so suddenly this week and many dog owners (me included) were left doing the seasonal shuffle—halfway still stuck in their Indian summer routine and halfway trying to brave the cold with their pooches. To make adapting to your new winter routine easier, we've compiled our top ten Do's and Don'ts for the chilly season.

1. Do Take the Dog Out
We get it—it's cold. When the temps hit anywhere in the twenties and below (for some of you, waaay below), all we want to do is snuggle next to the heater in fuzzy socks and a blanket, but don't forget about the pups! During wintertime, all animals have an instinct to eat more and store fat, and because our dear doggies are so domesticated, it's vital that they get enough exercise to keep them fit and healthy. 

2. Don't Leave Your Dog in the Cold
I saw so much of this during the weekend—because the cold hit the Bay so suddenly, many dog owners were still tying up their dogs outside out of habit while they shopped, ate brunch, or ran errands. The result? Packs of sad, shivering dogs. If you do have to tie your dog up outside, monitor the amount of time you leave them outdoors (generally no more than ten minutes) and if possible, try to tie them up in a sunny spot. 

3. Do Bundle up Your Pooch
If your dog has a million layers of undercoat, you got lucky, but if your dog doesn't and/or has short hair, make sure they're dressed appropriately! Dogs with short hair, especially little ones like Chihuahuas, Pugs, and Terriers, have an especially difficult time maintaining body temperature in the cold, so make sure they have a sweater or coat on before you head out the door. Check out our top picks for recommendations on cold weather gear.

4. Do Monitor Your Dog's Diet
It's all about ratio: less exercise = less food, more exercise = more food. If your pooch isn't getting enough physical activity in the winter (you should really scroll up and read #1!), reduce their food a little so they don't get that extra poundage. If you end up following the first commandment (good job and high five), increase the pup's diet so they can keep warm and produce enough body heat. Try introducing more protein into their diet as an additional, healthy form of calories.

5. Do Keep Your Dog Regularly Groomed
No, we don't mean shave your dog in the winter—try to keep your pup's fur as long as possible when it's cold. However, this also means you need to brush them as often as you can. Matted fur is both uncomfortable and won't keep dogs protected from the cold.

6. Don't Keep Fido in the Car
The car, like any tightly enclosed space, traps both heat and cold. Cars turn into refrigerators when the temperature drops, and keeping your dog in the car could mean freezing them to death. Running errands in the winter requires more planning, so if you're going to a place where Fido can't go and your car can't be parked in a warm, covered parking garage, leave the pooch at home.

7. Do Supply Fresh Water
As well as being dehydrated, pooches can't burn calories (i.e., stay warm) without water, so make sure you supply them with plenty of fresh water during the winter season. Also, replace your dog's bowls with ceramic or plastic bowls, as dogs' tongues can stick and freeze to metal.

8. Do Shovel the Snow
Dogs can easily climb snow packed high next to a fence and escape, so make sure you keep the snow sufficiently shoveled daily.

9. Don't Slack on Paw Maintenance
Make sure you wipe off the pup's paws thoroughly after a walk so they don't ingest ice melters such as salt or chemicals when they lick their paws later. And don't forget to keep the fur trimmed between the pads of their paws so snow and ice doesn't cling to the fur and get trapped.

10. Do Modify Time Outdoors
While you do have to be mindful of the amount of exercise your dog gets, this doesn't mean you need to be overexposed to the cold. Generally, the longer amount of time you spend in the cold being active, the less painful it is. Instead of taking your pup out several times a day for a short period (and catching a cold in the process), bundle up and take your dog on a longer, more involved activity such as a two-hour hike or an hour of intense fetch at the park twice a day. This, combined with letting them out quickly when they need to relieve themselves, will ensure that they get sufficient exercise and that you don't have to suffer the chill.

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Published on by Beatrix Chan.

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