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Nine Toasty Tips To Keep Your Senior Dog Warm Outdoors This Winter
The star and the inspiration for this post is Kevin Roberts’ dog, Willow, who has since crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. He brought her home when she was 3 years old, and she lived with him until she was 15. Kevin feels lucky that Willow was able to hike with him right up the day she died. It takes a little bit of consideration and planning to include your senior dogs in your outdoor adventures, but Kevin has a few tips to ensure you and your senior dog enjoy this winter in comfort.
There is something special about a senior dog. Over the years, you have built a lifetime of memories together. Now your best friend may be more “gray” than “play” at this stage in his life, but that doesn’t mean he should stay at home once it starts snowing. He loved the snow as a pup and now as a senior, he still loves it and can benefit tremendously from regular exercise, even in the snow. That being said, the cold temperatures in winter can negatively affect a senior dog, so it’s important to take a few things into consideration before heading out into the winter wonderland. Here are nine essential outdoor tips to keep your senior dog healthy and safe outside in the winter.
Related: Safety Tips For Dog Paws
- Keep him moving. Walks and adventures will help keep joints nimble and the brain engaged. During the winter, your senior dog will benefit from multiple short excursions rather than two or three long walks, especially if the temperature is below freezing outside. It’s probably not a good idea to take him on those long hikes you used to love doing together. Even if he is moving the whole time, snow can clump in his paws (if he refuses to wear booties), which can be painful and cause him to limp, and he can get cold before you’re ready to turn back and head home.
- Avoid over doing it. “The mind is willing, but the body is not able” may be the motto of many senior dogs. Your dog might not want to romp through the snow like he did when he was a pup, since age has slowed him down and he pays for it with aches and pains the next day. So, even though you may want him to keep up his 60-minute walks even in the winter, you may want to rethink that. Yes, it’s up to you to be the judge of your dog, so look at life and the activities you do together from his senior perspective, rather than yours.
- Keep him on a leash. Even the most obedient older dog will benefit from being on a leash during winter excursions. Your dog’s eyes and ears may not be as keen as they used to be, and it’s your job to keep your dog safe. A leash is going to go a long way in keeping your senior dog out of trouble. Since the sun sets earlier during the winter months, it can be pretty dark by 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Making sure your dog is visible at dusk or at night is very important, even against a background of white snow. Luckily, there’s a lot of reflective gear out there for dogs, so opt for reflective collars, coats, and leashes.
- Take care of those feet. This is the time of the year where you need to keep your senior pal’s nails trimmed properly. Your dog should have the weight of the body pressed down on the footpad, not on the nails. If he is standing on his nails, it can cause considerable pain and discomfort. Also, check for hair growing out of control between the toes. Hairy feet are for Hobbits, not dogs, and this extra fur does nothing to keep your dog warm. In fact, this hair traps snow and ice in between the paw pads, forcing the toes apart, and in some cases rubbing against the pads to causing bleeding – ouch!
If you have a fussy older dog that won’t wear booties, then it’s important to protect the pads of his paws. Make sure to wipe off his paws when he comes inside so they don’t stay wet (and cold) for long periods of time. Rock salt is going to be everywhere and may rub on the pads of his paws and cause irritation. Keep a pail of warm water and a towel near the door so you can gently wipe any sand or salt, and then dry it with the towel. Sometimes the pads become dry, cracked and may bleed. Apply a moisturizer originally made for cow udders to soothe the paws of your senior dog. Keep him busy with treats or a puzzle feeder so that he doesn’t lick it right off.
- Dress for the weather. As dogs age, they can’t regulate their bodies temperatures as easily as they use to. Some breeds—like huskies, certain shepherds, and mountain dogs—are bred for cold weather, and they really don’t ever need a sweater. But many dog breeds aren’t built for arctic temps, like smaller dogs or shorter-haired dogs. Dogs can get frostbite and any prolonged exposure of skin, paws or belly to sub-freezing temperatures can cause frostbite, which can be dangerous. Make sure your senior is outfitted with a warm coat that fits well and boots to help take the chill off. There are many styles of coats out these to choose from, so even older pooches can look fashionable while keeping warm.
- Set out a warm place to lie down. Place a few dog beds around your home so your senior dog can find a place that’s just the right temperature to lie down. A fleece blanket on top of a dog bed makes it a little warmer and a little softer – two things your senior pooch is sure to appreciate! And now that your dog is older and past the chewing stage, you can treat him to an electric blanket for his favorite napping spot.
- Proper diet.Talk to your vet about your senior dog’s activity and dietary needs. All dogs need a bit more food to keep warm during the winter. This is the time of year you can give him a little extra food, but be sure not to overdo it! Overweight dogs, especially seniors are prone to health issues as well as joint and muscles pains that can be made worse with excess weight.
- Watch out for slippery surfaces. You know to be careful on ice, but dogs often don’t. In his younger days, your dog may have been a four-wheeling, ice-running machine – but these days, he may have trouble with traction. As your dog ages, he may not have the strength he used to have to keep him from slip-sliding around. If your sidewalks are icy, look for dog booties that are outfitted with rubber soles.
- Beware of antifreeze: Even older dogs are curious and like to sniff around and taste things. There are special dangers lurking on the ground in the winter, such as antifreeze. Be extra vigilant about keeping your dog away from antifreeze. It tastes sweet, but is extremely toxic. As little as a teaspoon of antifreeze can cause kidney failure. Even if your antifreeze is safely tucked away, there is still a danger from residue in the streets. Most antifreeze is green ethylene glycol, but it comes in several different colors, so watch where your dog is sniffing and what he is ingesting.