Settling Winter Worries

March 24th, 2008

Winter is the season with the shortest days and the lowest temperatures. Caroline Zambrano speaks to pet experts about some winter worries.

When the winds change and temperature begins to drop, dog owners come to Dogs Life resident veterinarian Dr Michael Archinal with questions about winter care. One has a new puppy and is not sure about leaving Fido outside. Another pet owner wants to know if the kennel is warm enough for Rex. What about heating pads are they safe to use?

A pre-winter examination is the perfect time to answer these types of questions, Archinal tells Dogs Life. Besides talking about winter care, bedding, diet and winter-warming products, Archinal checks for arthritis, skin allergies and for changes in the dogs behaviour or overall wellbeing.

Some breeds are more sensitive to the cold than others, Archinal says. The top four breeds are:

Breeds that have a higher surface area beneath them in relation to their body weight are more sensitive to cold weather, Archinal explains. For instance, a Golden Retriever would be less susceptible to the cold because it has a high body weight and long coat.

Doggy live outside or inside?

One of the questions many new dog owners have is whether their dog will live inside or outside. With puppies, it depends, Archinal says. Do you have a small fragile puppy or a toy dog? Then its inappropriate, initially, during winter. With large dogs, its usually not a problem. Some animals seek to go outside.

If your dog is to live outside, it would be a good idea to speak to your vet about appropriate shelter. Kennels should be insulated and raised off the ground by two inches, Archinal says. Some dogs will tolerate having a dog door to their kennel. Make sure there is soft bedding in the kennel.

Also consider putting a heat source inside the kennel, such as a microwavable heating pad, which is specifically made for dogs and is safe to use. Beware of electrical heating pads make sure it has a kill switch, as animals can die from electric shock.

Among an array of winter-warming products on the market today, dog coats are becoming more and more popular, especially with short-coated dogs. Waterproof ones are great, especially when walking early mornings. It keeps them nice and dry, Archinal says, advising owners not to leave coats on all day. I tend to take them off when unsupervised [to prevent injuries, although rare].

Dog groomer Susie Simmons, who knows all about a dogs coat, tells Dogs Life to choose doggie attire that keeps your pet warm and fits properly.

Choose jackets with materials that insulate and reduce moisture if wet, like wool and cotton, she says. Seek professional advice for a proper fit – many older canines need a longer jacket to protect the hindquarters or long neck region for insulation, and its very important the winter attire allows your canine to move freely – not restricting.

Vet concerns

Some veterinarians have concerns about the way dog owners care for their dogs, especially during winter.

For instance, owners who normally house their dog indoors suddenly decide to house their dog outside, especially during the wintertime, Archinal tells Dogs Life.

Keep puppies and older dogs indoors, except for short periods of time, as they are more susceptible to the effects of the cold, he says. Also, just like in the summer months, vets are concerned about pets being left alone in cars during the cold-weather months. When the engine is off, a car can act as a refrigerator, holding in the cold, Archinal warns readers.

Cold weather can also disrupt dogs sense of direction. Keep dogs on a leash, especially during bad weather when they can lose their ability to find their way by smell, he says. Keep identification tags updated in the event your dog runs away.

Winter conditions

Some animals hibernate during the winter, but these parasites and conditions are a topic of concern for many vets. Dr Michael Archinal highlights some of the winter bugs to watch out for during the cold season. Just because we associate them with the summer, doesn’t mean that we cannot pay attention to maintaining prevention during the winter, he says.


Fleas are bloodsucking parasites that live on animals and can make your dogs life miserable due to constant scratching, including during the wintertime. However, whether fleas are problematic depends on where you live they need 70 per cent humidity to hatch. On the coast, fleas will lay dormant in the carpet, waiting for right conditions to hatch.

If your pet is allergic to fleas, just one bite may cause allergic dermatitis, causing sores, hairlessness and skin infections requiring antibiotic treatment. If your dog presents any of these symptoms, see your vet as soon as possible.

To prevent fleas, consider a continuous flea-treatment program, which can prevent the fleas from reproducing and from biting. They are administered orally or topically once a month. Flea collars, powders and shampoos are also available.


Heartworm is a problem not just during the winter, but all year round. Dogs can become infected by a bite from a mosquito carrying heartworm larvae, which, once inside the dog, grow into adults over six to seven months and live in the heart and arteries supplying the lungs. Dogs of any age or breed are susceptible to infection.

Symptoms of heartworm can be a cough and early exhaustion upon exercise. Also look out for shortness of breath, lack of appetite, weakness, fainting, abnormal heart and lung sounds, dull coat, vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Your vet will do a physical examination and various tests to check for the deadly heartworm disease.

You can prevent heartworm infection by administering monthly pills, chewable tablets or as an annual injection. Speak to your vet to find out which drug is suitable for your pet.


Osteoarthritis is a painful, debilitating and degenerative joint disease that, unfortunately, has no cure. An inflammation of the joint is called arthritis. This can occur when the cartilage lining of the joint surface is damaged and the lubricating fluid in the joint is thinner than it should be, leading to bone-on-bone contact upon joint movement where the pain comes in, Archinal says.

Arthritis is caused by many factors, including degeneration due to old age, injury and growing defects (elbow and hip dysplasia). Obesity and genetics also play a role. Sudden changes in the weather or drops in temperature may affect pets suffering from osteoarthritis, he says.

Symptoms of arthritis include limping, stiffness of joints, especially in the morning, licking of joints, difficulty in rising from a resting position and climbing stairs, and reluctance to walk or play.

Before winter comes around, take your dog to the vet for a full-body check-up. A variety of treatment programs are available to help reduce the amount of inflammation, swelling and pain in affected joints, and make your pet comfortable. Check out page 23 on how to manage your dogs arthritis with the right foods and supplements.


Hypothermia is experienced by dogs whose body temperature is 35C or below perhaps from diving in water and walking home in the cold. Dogs exposed to cold, wet, windy weather, especially if old, injured or undernourished, can lose their ability to maintain their body temperature. If body temperature falls to 25C or below, it is unlikely the dog will survive.

Hypothermic dogs feel cold to touch, have a decreased heart rate, weak pulse and pale mucous membranes. They may be shivering or semi/unconscious. If your dog is showing signs of hypothermia, place it somewhere warm, wrap in a blanket and place a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel on or under the animal. Do not try to raise the dogs temperature too quickly, as it may cause skin burns and be fatal to your dog. Seek veterinary attention immediately!

Anti-freeze poisoning

Although anti-freeze (car engine coolant) poisoning is rare, its important to mention, as it can be deadly. A complex chemical liquid, coolant helps to prevent freezing in cold climates, so cars can operate in sub-zero temperatures.

It is extremely poisonous if consumed coolant has a sweet smell and taste, and your dog may try to drink it if it spills on the ground. It can cause kidney failure in dogs, Archinal warns. We had a case a couple years ago; the dog did die.

Doggy depression

According to animal behaviourist Dr Joanne Righetti, winter blues in canines has not been strictly proven. In humans, a disorder known as SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) can occur during winter months. This is when the amount of serotonin and melonin in their system drops, due to the lack of daylight hours. However, this has not been shown to appear in dogs, Righetti tells Dogs Life.

However, your dog can feel depressed if it does not get the mental stimulation it needs. Energetic dogs and working dogs are more at risk of depression during the cooler months.

In the winter, people often don’t take their animals for walks as much, so dogs don’t get the mental stimulation they need, Archinal says. Its good to provide them with enrichment; for instance, take your dog out during the day and play games. Keep up your dogs spring and autumn routine. To get your dog out of the blues, try organising outdoor activities, like agility or training, or how about booking your dog into a doggy daycare centre?

If you have any concerns about your dogs health or wish to discuss any of these winter conditions, please seek advice from your veterinarian.

Winter pampering

Why is it important to maintain your dog’s grooming schedule during the winter months? Caroline Zambrano answers your winter grooming questions. It is essential to stick to your dogs grooming schedule during the winter months because colder weather often stimulates more hair/coat growth, says award-winning dog groomer Susie Simmons.

“Our lifestyles and the role canines plays in our lives means our pets spend just as much time outside as inside in winter. This can really confuse what the coat was designed to do – one minute the hair follicles need to grow to keep your pet warm while outside; the next, they need to be shed because the heats on, says Simmons, who is the winner of the 2007 Dogs Life PIAA Pet People Awards for Best Grooming Service.

Double-coated breeds, like Samoyed, German Shepherd and Pomeranians, have coats that are designed to thicken up for insulation in cold climates, but they often live indoors in our heated environment during the winter.

Regular brushing

How can regular brushing prepare the coat for the colder months? Regular grooming/brushing through winter is paramount to maintaining your pets natural climate-control mechanism, Simmons says. Regular brushing in the winter removes the ‘shedding’ hair, thus avoiding matting, keeping the pet balanced temperature-wise and saving on vacuuming.

Heating in our homes can often dry out or dehydrate dogs skin. Grooming, in turn, stimulates and conditions the skin and coat, Simmons says.

Some breeds such as the Maltese, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso and Poodle – also require regular trimming and need to have their coats maintained through winter. Growing the hair long for winter can often result in increased matting, skin ailments and more importantly, restricted movement, Simmons says.

How about grooming the feet? Keeping hair around paw pads trimmed will help keep your dogs paws free of ice and snow, which can ball up between footpads and create uncomfortable walking.

Foot care

The foot is your pets contact to its environment, and maintaining the hair on the feet can improve the overall movement of your pet, Simmons says.

Most canines grow hair between the pads of each foot. Keeping this region of hair short allows the pad of the foot to work well – too much hair may cause excessive slipping on polished floorboards, tiles etc. When the pad hair is trimmed, short debris has nowhere to cling to – sand, burs and ice can contact the feet, but doesn’t stick around/mat in this small region.

Nail maintenance is also paramount in winter months, as Dogs Life finds out. Walks often get shorter in winter due to daylight changes and the cold. Long nails don’t allow the pads to contact the ground correctly and can push the toes/digits outwards to a compromising position, Simmons says. The feet are very sacred to most canines; when this area is not maintained, many pets are quite uncomfortable and will excessively lick and chew this region.


When you bathe your pet in the wintertime, there are a few things to consider before you turn on the water.

Ensure the bath water is not too hot, dry your pets coat well and ensure there is no dampness if your pet is having to stay outside afterwards, Simmons says. If using a hairdryer, keep the heater off on your dryer to avoid [causing] heat-damage to your pets coat.

Brushing tangles out prior to bathing will ensure no soap residue remains caught in a tangle to cause irritation. Many tangles turn into mats when they become wet, Simmons says.

Winter Games

Winter is a time when many people and pets are inclined to stay indoors and turn into couch potatoes. There are literally hundreds of things you can train your dog to do in the comfort and safety of your own home, says Dogs Life resident dog trainer Karin Bridge.

In fact, your dog will most probably learn a new lesson better if it is first taught in the relatively distraction-free environment of your home. Plus, mental stimulation will tire your dog more effectively than physical exercise, she says.

Fun and games indoors

Bridge shares a few ideas to keep your dog busy and happy indoors:

Hide-and-seek: Playing hide-and-seek is a great way to expend lots of mental and physical energy indoors. You can hide food treats, favourite toys or even people.

Doggy playgroup: Meet up with some of your doggy friends at home (or another indoor area) and hang out together. This will be a wonderful opportunity to share doggie stories while your pooch enjoys the company of its kind.

Doggy tricks and games: You can teach your dog many tricks to keep him entertained during the winter months. Why don’t you try teaching your pooch to roll over, play dead, shake or bark on command. You can play tug-of-war or fetch with your dog’s favourite toy.

Outside in

If you’re looking for outdoor options that involve staying indoors, check out dog-training schools that offer indoor training facilities.This would be a good opportunity to give your dog the exercise it needs and the fun of socialisation with other dogs, Bridge says.

Doggy daycare is another option to keep your dog active while its raining outside. Its also a great way to socialise your dog. Your dog will become completely exhausted, Bridge says. It will also ensure your dog is getting adequate exercise if you cannot provide it during the cooler months.

Winter-warming recipes

Many Dogs Life readers have asked for winter-warming recipes for their dogs, however, the delicious homemade treat you get off the Internet or from a friend may not be beneficial for your hungry pooch. Caroline Zambrano finds out why.

Why must dog owners be careful about feeding their pet a winter-warming, home-cooked recipe?

Home-cooked diets are best formulated specifically for the individual animal to consider species, breed-related problems, individual diseases, caloric requirement and animal/owner preferred ingredients, says Scott Campbell, specialist veterinary nutritionist. The one recipe fits all approach is not precise and results in diets that are sub-optimal for many individuals.

As a general rule, Campbell says treats should supply less than 10 per cent of the total daily calories ingested to prevent them unbalancing the daily diet, to minimise undesired weight gain and to reduce the risk of your pet developing finicky eating habits.

“The dangers of feeding your pet various human foods extend beyond the risk of expanding its waistline, says Campbell, who is an adjunct academic at the University of Queensland. A number of studies have reported the toxic potential of many common ingredients when fed to dogs and/or cats.

Dangerous ingredients

Campbell says there are some ingredients to watch out for when considering winter-warming, home-cooked foods and treats for your pooch.

  • Grapes and raisins: Ingestion can cause kidney failure in dogs and cats.
  • Macadamia nut: Ingestion has been associated with weakness and tremors in dogs.
  • Chocolate, tea, cola or cocoa beans: These contain theobromine, which dogs and cats do not metabolise efficiently, causing gastrointestinal upset, cardiac arrhythmias and seizures.
  • Garlic or onion: Ingestion may develop anemia secondary to oxidative damage to the red blood cells and altered platelet function.
  • Xylitol or propylene glycol: Food products containing these should be avoided as they may have detrimental effects in pets – dogs can develop a fairly sudden drop in blood sugar, resulting in depression, loss of coordination and seizures.
  • Other potentially dangerous ingredients for dogs and cats include caffeine, salt, nicotine and uncooked yeast dough, Campbell adds.

Raw, undercooked or improperly stored meats can be a source of microbial infection. And raw egg white contains avidin, which can result in a biotin deficiency if fed regularly, so proper preparation of foods is important to consider, he says. Access to items such as bones, candy wrappers, aluminum foil or plastic wrap can also be a problem for dogs and cats, as they may become lodged in the mouth, oesophagus, stomach or intestine if eaten.

To discuss winter-warming diets for your dog, Campbell advises a chat with your vet for advice.

You need to look after your pooch's health - check out our all-new DOGSLife Directory

Got Something To Say: