The idea of an “outside dog,” one that is tough enough to withstand winter’s icy grip, is a myth, animal experts say.
It’s just one of the dangers the season presents to man’s best friend.
“There isn’t one temperature that’s a hard and fast rule for all pets, but the best general rule is if it is too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet,” said Lori Bierbrier, senior medical director for ASPCA Community Medicine in New York City.”It’s best to only keep your dog outside long enough to use the restroom during severe winter weather.”
Varying factors, like breed, age, coat, health and activity levels, can come into play, say animal-care experts. But when the wind starts whipping or the mercury drops, it’s time to bring your pooch in.
January temperatures have been colder than normal in New Jersey, and the National Weather Service predicts another dip this week. The agency expects a high in Hackensack on Wednesday of 26 degrees Fahrenheit, but with windchill values between 10 and 15 and a nighttime low around 13 degrees.
What are the signs of hypothermia?
In icy, snowy conditions, your dog will have the same troubles as you: Maintaining body temperature in winter weather is difficult, and the risk of hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, is real.
“Hypothermia can range from mild to severe, resulting in impaired consciousness and even death,” Bierbrier said in an email. Signs include “shivering, inactivity, paleness of the skin, lethargy, muscle stiffness, shallow breathing, and fixed and dilated pupils.”
If a dog is displaying any of these signs, wrap it in a pre-warmed blanket or add a hot water bottle to the outer layer of a blanket and call a veterinarian.
Pet-care experts recommend keeping a close eye on your dog anytime it is outside. Never let it off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm. More dogs are lost during the winter than in any other season, Bierbrier said. That’s because dogs can lose a scent more easily in winter weather and become lost, so make sure yours always has its ID tag.
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How to avoid salt, ice burns
Ice melt is another common hazard this time of year. It can cause chemical burns on paws, so wipe a dog’s legs, feet and belly thoroughly when it comes in after walking in sleet, snow or ice. This can prevent it from ingesting salt, antifreeze or other dangerous chemicals, Bierbrier said.
Another pro tip: Massaging petroleum jelly into the pads of dogs’ paws before they going outside will help protect them against salt and chemicals as well as moisturize them.
Make sure to get those ice balls off your pet as soon as possible when you get home. They can cause frostbite, according to American Humane, an animal-welfare group. Check its underside, ears and tail for frostbitten skin, which is pale or gray. Treat it by wrapping the area in a dry towel to warm it gradually. Call a veterinarian if you suspect frostbite.
American Humane recommends using nontoxic antifreeze, and watching out for spilled antifreeze during walks. Remember, the group said, that the chemical tastes sweet, and it only takes a small amount to poison a dog.
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Which breeds are most at risk?
Smaller dogs, those with shorter hair and less active animals will be more susceptible, more quickly, to cold.
Medium to large dog breeds, like the Siberian husky, Samoyed and malamute, are better adapted to extreme cold because of their thick double coats, according to the American Kennel Club. As a result, they can stay outdoors longer in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, usually for 30 minutes to an hour, the group said.
On the other hand, short-nosed pups — including bulldogs, boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Shih Tzus and pugs — are more sensitive to extreme weather conditions and should be kept inside, especially when exercising.
Many states have laws against any keeping dog out in the yard longer than a half-hour in freezing temperatures, according to the club. This is true in New Jersey, where a person cannot expose a dog to “adverse environmental conditions for more than 30 minutes,” the Animal Law Legal Center says.
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Should you bundle up your pup?
If your dog is shorthaired, consider getting a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck that covers from the base of the tail to the belly, Bierbrier said.
“Some dogs will benefit from a sweater or coat and/or booties when going outside in the winter. These can help retain body heat and prevent skin from getting dry or inflamed,” she said. “Whether a dog needs a coat depends on many factors, including age, size, breed, and fur, so discuss your specific pet’s needs with a veterinarian.”
Dogs should always be kept inside during inclement weather, she added. If left outdoors, pets can freeze, become disoriented, or be injured or killed.
Being left inside cars in the winter can be just as dangerous to dogs as it is during summer heat, experts said. Being left in a vehicle this time of year is like being in a refrigerator that holds in the cold. Animals left alone can freeze to death.
Gene Myers is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.