Tips for Helping Senior & Older Dogs in Winter & Snow
Chances are, you've had plenty of time to learn all about your dog. You've gotten to know their quirks, their likes and dislikes and their unique behaviors and facial expressions. But now your dog has aged, and it's time to relearn their needs as a senior. For pet parents who experience cold winters, that means helping older dogs in snow.
As temperatures drop and days shorten, new challenges arise for aging dogs. Senior dogs in winter face challenges ranging from slippery steps and floors to frigid temperatures, arthritis and joint problems, paw damage from salt and more. As a pet parent, you play a major role in keeping your dog comfortable, safe and healthy in the winter months. Let's explore a few ways to start helping older dogs in snow and ensuring their overall comfort in colder temperatures.
Limit Their Exposure to Extreme Temperatures
Just like people, dogs have a more difficult time regulating their body temperatures as they age. In the winter, senior dogs are at an increased risk of hypothermia, frostbite and other cold-weather illnesses. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), it's best to keep most dog breeds inside in extremely cold conditions. Consider turning to exercise alternatives to keep your dog stimulated and active. Playing fetch down a long hallway, hiding favorite treats or toys for your dog to seek out and even brushing up on training (yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks!) are all great ways to keep your senior pup's mind and body working.
In situations where staying inside is not possible, helping older dogs in snow requires extreme caution. Consider such measures as dressing your dog in a warm outer layer, like a jacket or winter coat. If you can train your dog to get comfortable wearing booties on their feet in colder months, do so. While outside, avoid walking your dog over risky areas such as black ice, thin ice and metal manhole covers. And keep your eyes peeled for the telltale signs of hypothermia: intense shivering, lethargy and frostbite. Check for frostbite by looking for bluish or white coloring on affected areas of skin. Earflaps and the tips of your dog's tail are especially vulnerable to frostbite, so when you're helping older dogs in snow, pay special attention to these areas.
Adapt Your Home for the Season
According to the AKC, "As our dogs age and their bodies change, they become more sensitive to outside conditions. Senior dogs, regardless of breed, are more susceptible to hot and cold weather." Try putting a coat on your dog when you walk them on colder days and adding a blanket to their bed during the nighttime to make sure your furry friend stays safe and warm.
Consider adapting your home for the winter months to ensure your dog has everything they need to navigate through the home safely, get warm fast and feel comfortable and content. One way to do this is to lay down carpets, large rugs or non-slip mats on ordinarily slippery floors. Be sure to include floors by the entryways of your home where you may track snow. This ensures that your dog always has a stable surface to walk on. Block off any stairs with a gate to ensure that your dog can't trip down (or up) them when they're unattended.
Additionally, create a space near a heater or fireplace to lay a special bed where your dog can spend some time during the day. Consider an orthopedic dog bed to help reduce the impact on your pet's bones and muscles. If you think your pet could benefit from one, purchase a waterproof cover in case your dog has an accident.
Protect Their Feet
Your senior dog's paws are incredibly susceptible to damage and pain during the winter months. You'll need to take extra caution to protect them from the ice, snow and salt that can get stuck between their toes and the pads of their feet. The AKC recommends keeping the hair between your dog's toes trimmed level with the paw pads. This will prevent ice balls from forming on these tufts of hair and causing pain and damage to your pup's feet.
Before walking outside, consider applying a paw balm to your dog's paws. Paw balm can not only protect your dog's feet from the damaging effects of salt, ice, freezing pavement and snow, but it can also help to moisturize the pads of your dog's feet. This added moisture effectively repairs any damage done while reducing soreness.
Before you bring your dog back inside, consider gently rinsing their paws with warm water and a soft cloth. Make sure to clean between your dog's toes and pads to work out any small particles that might be stuck. This will help prevent damage to their paws and ensure they don't accidentally consume harmful substances. It will also prevent your dog from tracking any salt or other chemicals into the house.
Be Extra Cautious and Consult Your Veterinarian
Senior dogs in winter are especially susceptible to the elements, and you may find underlying health issues are agitated by cold weather. If you have a senior dog, consider altering some of your usual routines. Avoid going up and down stairs as much as possible — or, if you can, carry your dog to help protect their joints. Pay extra close attention to their behavior to ensure they aren't exhibiting any obvious signs of pain or discomfort.
It's also worth talking to a trusted vet about arthritis and joint problems that may develop or worsen in winter. Your vet can provide you with additional resources and tips to keep your pet safe and comfortable.
Winter is a harsh season for people and dogs alike. And for senior dogs, it is a critical time for special care and attention. By taking the right steps to protect your dog and winterize your home, you can ensure this winter is your pet's best.
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Instagram @ErinOllila or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.