Winter in Ireland is full of surprises, especially with the weather. It can change very quickly, and just when we think spring is on the way, we can get buried in snow. One year will be mild, the next icy enough to disrupt normal life for a week. But every winter includes some hidden hazards for our dogs.
We tend to think that dogs don’t feel the cold like we do, and that is true of some dogs. Large breeds with heavy coats are pretty hearty. But smaller breeds, sight hounds and older dogs are vulnerable to the cold. They need our help to stay healthy and safe through the winter months. And even those big dogs with the very plush winter coats can suffer from being exposed to the elements too much.
The basics of keeping your dog safe throughout the winter are not complicated. Keep them in the house more. If they are outside, ensure their dog house is dry and free of draughts. Watch for signs that they are unhappy outside such as begging to get in, lethargy or shivering. Dogs that suffer from the cold will enjoy their walks more bundled up in a dog coat. Canines can get hypothermia, and it can kill. But winter brings less obvious hazards too, and pet owners need to be informed and prepared.
What to Watch for Outside
Most dogs still need a walk even when it is cold and wet out. If a storm is raging, that is not the time to take them! On an ordinary winter day, some less obvious dangers lurk.
- Antifreeze: The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently issued a warning after a string of unusual cat deaths. The antifreeze and coolant we put in our cars is deadly poison – and to our dogs and cats, it smells delicious. Wipe up any spills immediately and be aware of where your dog is walking especially in areas where people park cars. Dog owners who have trained their pets to step off the curb to defecate must be especially vigilant. Wipe your dog’s paws carefully when you return home, as they will lick off any antifreeze. If your dog appears lethargic, begins vomiting, seems clumsy or otherwise unwell after a walk, contact your vet immediately. This is an emergency, and only fast action can save your pet.
- Ice: Mostly this will be in the form of frozen puddles, but if you are near a lake, canal or stream that has frozen, that’s also a danger. In Ireland, it is unlikely to be frozen solid enough to support your dog’s weight. The most common danger ice poses is not the emergency of a dog falling through ice into a pond. It’s the slow damage to their paws from walking on icy puddles. And where there is ice, there is often de-icer, which is poison and will harm your dog’s paws. This is another reason to carefully dry your dog’s paws after a walk. If you notice they are chapped or raw, talk to your vet about the best treatment and protection. Dog boots are a thing. Most dogs dislike them at first, but they can be great for elderly dogs as they also help prevent slips.
- Cars: The danger of leaving dogs in the car during the summer gets lots of publicity. But your car also gets too cold. Basically, it is nearly always a bad idea to leave your pet unattended in your car. At best, they will be bored or frightened, which often leads to barking or chewing. The risk of them being killed by heat or developing hypothermia is limited to summer and winter, but dog thieves operate all year round.
Beware These Indoor Winter Dangers
Keeping your dog inside more during the winter is the best plan. But your cosy home can feature some seasonal hazards too. Being aware of the risks means you can protect your pooch.
- Rodent Poisons & Traps: Your dogs aren’t the only furry creatures who want to be inside during the cold, wet winter. If you have unwelcome visitors in the form of rats or mice, you might use poisons or traps. But remember, those can also harm your beloved pets. Place traps in places where you are absolutely certain your pets can’t reach them. Poisons are more difficult because no matter where you place them, the rodent can move to a different spot after ingesting them. And if your dog or cat finds the rodent, he can also ingest the poison by biting the rodent.
- Holiday Hazards: Most of us know that chocolate is a lethal poison to dogs, but did you know that poinsettia plants can hurt your pets? They are so pretty, but sadly if your dog or cat nibbles on them, they will wind up with an irritated mouth. Holly and mistletoe are also toxic. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these festive plants, just that they should be out of reach of your pets. Cats like to nibble on plants, and dogs are omnivorous. While they’d prefer a steak, they will sample houseplants too.
- Indoor Heaters: Does your house have a cold spot that the central heating doesn’t seem to touch? Or do you save on your fuel bills by sometimes only heating the room you are using with a portable heater? Remember to keep an eye on them and don’t leave your pet unattended with them while they are on. Boisterous young pets can knock them over playing. Older dogs often seek out heat. They can also knock them over by snuggling up to them. Know how easily any heaters you use can be tipped over, and how quickly they could start a fire in your home.
Winter is a fun time, and many dogs enjoy romping in the snow for short periods. Enjoy throwing snowballs for your dog to chase and spending some cosy time by the fire together. When you are aware of the seasonal hazards and can keep your dog safe, you can both enjoy all the seasons offers.