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How To Prepare Your Pets For Winter Weather

Seeing as we live in sunny Southern California this may sound like an odd article for me to be writing. But even dogs living in LaLa land need to prep for cold weather, just not as intensively as our friends in the Midwest and East coast. Winter weather can be as hard on your animals as it is on us. Personally I cannot stand anything below about 60 degrees and get positively cranky when I have to suit up the dogs for a walk in the rain or the cold. Add in snow and ice and it can be a completely miserable experience! And as it gets colder our natural instinct is to snuggle in by the fire and forego exercise but don't give in. Your pets are counting on you to help them stay active and fit year round so here are a few tips to help all of you manage the upcoming cold weather.

Keep their diets the same. The worst thing we can do is think that we might need to fatten them up a bit for the upcoming cold weather. Don't do it! Your dog needs to stay trim year round which will help them weather OTHER storms such as arthritis, injuries and old age, so you always want your dog to have the upper hand in the fitness wars. Fattening up your dog will just make everything that much harder, his endurance and stamina will suffer and it will be harder to get in those daily walks around the neighborhood if he is carrying around a few extra pounds. Also be sure that when you have guests over for the holidays and/or throw a holiday party, that your dogs and cats wear a note attached to their collar saying, "Please don't feed me, I'm on a diet". I find that this works pretty good with overeager party guests who are anxious to give Fluffy a piece of their turkey, stuffing, or pumpkin pie.  Barring that a simple request to all your houseguests to please not feed your pets should hopefully do the trick.  Its not much fun to clean up the diarrhea and vomit after a holiday party where a few guests slipped your dog waaayyy too much food. 

Dress warmly yourself before heading out for a walk. This may sound incredibly obvious but I find that I do this all too often. I don't think its going to be cold when I head out for the last walk of the night, and then get a block away and realize that I am freezing, and quickly turn around and head for home. This is so unfair to your dogs! Especially when they are looking forward to a nice romp around the neighborhood.  So put your hat and gloves on before you head out the door.

Make sure your dog is protected from the elements as well.  Some of you may recognize this behavior pattern.  Your dog eagerly leaps around waiting for the leash to be put on in anticipation of that all important phrase, "Who wants to go for a WALK?"  As soon as everyone is leashed up, you get outside and it is sprinkling. Inevitably one dog in the pack scrunches his eyes shut, tiptoes meekly to a plant, lifts his leg and races back for the house. My response to that is a big NO WAY. So to prevent that from happening, my water wimp is fitted with his very own raincoat. Granted, he looks almost as silly as if he were in a Halloween costume but he can at least then make it all the way around the block and stay dry and comfortable while doing his business. Plus I'm sure its good for a laugh from my neighbors peering out the window at us.

Along those same lines if you have a slim dog with a short haircoat, make sure you have sweaters for them. They will be so much more comfortable on a long walk if they aren't shivering and the last thing you want is to have to cut your walk short because your dog is too cold and then an hour later find out that there was an "accident" in the house.

Lastly for those of you in snowy climes, consider booties for your dogs. You don't always need them but anytime you are going to be going on a long rough hike in lousy weather, or strolling on a salt-covered city sidewalk, boots can come in very handy.  I've yet to find a pair that truly kept paws dry but they definitely protect their pads from being torn up on rough surfaces or salt which can wreak havoc on sensitive paws.  The biggest gripe most dog owners have is that boots don't stay on well. That is usually because they were not tightened up enough. You have to really crank down on the straps to keep the boots on. And obviously, remove them the minute you get home. Boots are not meant for being worn in the house, I don't care what the literature says.
Winterproof your house. Again this may sound obvious but there are a few things that you can do to keep your pets warm and comfortable.  Animals spend most of their lifetimes lying around on the floor, where it is coldest. Be sure to eliminate drafts in the house and check your weatherstripping around all the doors. You may not feel the slight draft coming in through the bottom of your door but I guarantee you, your dogs and cats will! Make sure there are no gaps between the door and the threshold and around the sides of the door.

Make sure that everyone has a warm, padded bed. I'm not a fan of heated beds for a couple of reasons. The main one is that I work with elderly dogs and dogs with orthopedic conditions. If you leave a very elderly dog on a heated bed they may not be strong enough to get off of it when they get too warm, and they can badly burn themselves or overheat. Ditto dogs with paralysis or neurologic issues - they may not be able to drag themselves off the bed if they need to cool down.  Many dogs take medication that would be contraindicated on a heated bed as well, especially any dog using a Fentanyl patch.  My preference would be to let your older and post-surgical dogs have a nice fluffy orthopedic bed and you can cover them with a blanket or two if you feel they need to warm up. For perfectly healthy dogs especially the heat seeking Italian Greyhounds or Dobermans, I say just lift up the covers on your bed and let them crawl into their own little nest.

Keep your dogs in good physical condition. Those of you who have read my articles already know that I am a fanatic for physical fitness both human and canine/feline. I firmly believe that the root of most behavior problems is boredom and that a tired, well exercised animal is a well behaved animal. I recently broke my hand and my toe and had to cut back on our daily six mile runs that my Doberman lives for.  I was really worried that she would go berserk as she needs a lot of exercise to be happy.  Fortunately she is very fit and also loves to run on the treadmill.  I could set her up on the treadmill each day and let her trot to her heart's content while I worked on the computer right next to her. And as soon as I could walk without too much pain we started daily 2 mile walks in addition to our regular thrice daily walks with the whole pack. It made all the difference in the world to her. We still had our "special" time together, we could walk briskly for the entire trip and by the time we got home she was happy and tired and flopped on the floor with a grin on her face.  Lesson being, whatever your limitations are you can probably find a way to get your dog the exercise he/she needs, you just need to be a little creative.  Just don't try to walk your dogs while you're on crutches.  I've done it repeatedly and don't recommend it. One squirrel and you're face down on the sidewalk with a pack of loose hysterical dogs running wild.

Regarding conditioning, don't let the fact that it is winter deter you from getting your dog into shape. Anytime is the right time to start a conditioning program, its just easier in the warm weather!  Just remember to start out slowly. You want to very carefully and very gradually up your dog's exercise and fitness level.  I recommend for senior pets or pets recovering from surgery to increase their walk time by one minute a day. And even that might be too much. For example, if your dog is a complete couch potato start by walking your dog five minutes (2 ½ min out, 2 ½ min back). Keep it that way for a few days and then increase by a minute.  Do that for a few days and increase by another minute.  Any time you see increased tiredness or lameness back off to the point where the dog wasn't lame and keep it there for a week or two and then again slowly start adding in a minute. This way within a few months you will be safely walking half an hour (or whatever your goal is) each day. And your pet will thank you for it!!

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