The Ultimate Winter Holiday Canine Care Guide

With December finally here, we’ve put together a complete list of tips, tricks and care advice to ensure you and your dog (or cat!) avoid the typical hazards of winter, Christmas and general holiday festivities!

Take care to avoid the trouble that the cold weather brings but don’t forget to have fun and enjoy yourself, because that is what Christmas is all about right?

PetSci is proud to bring you: The Ultimate Winter Holiday Canine Care Guide.

Out-cunning the Cold

Unless you are lucky enough to live near the equator, winter brings with it cold, dreary, dark days and the occasional bought of snow. These unfavourable conditions aren’t just annoying, they can be hazardous for us and our pets! Fortunately dogs, with their thick, insulating coats and higher-than-human core body temperatures are a bit more adept at coping with the cold, but they still need some extra care to stay safe during the cooler winter months.

Reduced Temperatures & Snow

Where possible, we should minimise the amount of time our dogs spend outside during the winter. However, we can’t keep our pets indoors all the time and eventually we are going to have to let them out for the toilet or exercise!

  • If you have a dog with short hair, or maybe even little or no hair (such as the Chinese Crested) then you might want to consider a dog coat. Dogs coats are a simple way to provide an extra layer of insulation for your dog and keep snow from settling on their coat
  • You may even want to consider dog boots or shoes. Little slip-on shoes can prevent snow and ice getting compacted into the gaps in the paw pads and reduce heat loss through the paws
  • If it has been snowing, you might want to ensure there is an area in your garden which has been cleared to allow your dog to do their business without having to squat on the cold snow
  • After coming in from either a walk or the garden, if your dog is wet, be sure to towel dry them to prevent the moisture rapidly reducing their temperature
  • If your dog has been out in the snow, make sure there is no compact snow or ice stuck in their paws or coat – if their is gently brush the snow away
  • Watch out for hazards such as branches, broken glass or other obstacles that may be buried in deep snow
  • If out walking, frozen water sources such as ponds and lakes can be highly dangerous for you and your dog – so steer clear!
  • If you pet sleeps on a bed near the door, check for draughts. If there is a draught, consider moving your pet’s bed or blocking the source of the cool air current
  • Some heat sources we use during winter to warm our houses can be a risk for pets, keep pets away from open fire sources or hot surfaces to reduce the risk of burns
  • If your dog is normally an ‘outdoor dog’ make sure they aren’t made to remain outside exclusively – bring them indoors during the freezing winter nights
  • All mammals use extra calories when it is cold – to keep warm. Adding some extra calories
    to your dog’s diet can ensure they have plenty of energy to keep their body temperature up
  • If you take your dog out with you, don’t leave them in the car; a stationary car will rapidly cool in temperature and act as a refrigerator – essentially, leaving a dog in a cold car is just as dangerous as leaving them in a hot car over summer. Don’t consider leaving the engine running to preserve heat either as this can lead to a build up of poisonous carbon monoxide gas
  • Continued exposure to the cold can lead to some severe problems, such as hypothermia and frostbite. Both are painful and can result in a costly visit to the vets, not to mention endanger your pet’s well-being! Avoid staying out in cold or snowy conditions for long periods of time, to minimise the risk of your pet having to deal with these nasty health problems

Rock Salt & Antifreeze

With winter comes snow and snow is renowned for making life difficult (especially here in the UK where a light snow-shower manages to bring the whole country to a stand-still). As such people want to keep the snow at bay, two of the best ways to do this are with anti-freeze and rock salt. Unfortunately, neither are entirely pet friendly.

  • Rock salt is the coarse, salty gravel used to keep snow at bay, it is also a toxic irritant for dogs
  • When out walking your dog, it is likely you will come across some rock salt, steer your pet away from it and when you return home, make sure to wipe and dry their stomach to remove any salt that may have attached to their fur or underside. Dogs are likely to attempt to lick the salt off if it is left there
  • Make sure your pet doesn’t get the chance to consume any rock salt, if they do it can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. It can also upset the natural electrolyte balance (the delicate balance of minerals in the body) as the high sodium levels of rock salt can reduce fluid levels and increase the amount of other minerals lost in urine
  • If you need to use rock salt, consider a safer sand alternative, there are many dog-friendly sand products which keep the snow at bay
  • Like rock salt, antifreeze is toxic to dogs, however only a small amount of antifreeze needs to be consumed to cause problems
  • Antifreeze contains the chemical ethylene glycol, it is this compound that is toxic, even in small amounts
  • Surprisingly, antifreeze tastes sweet and is often attractive and brightly coloured. As such antifreeze may actually be appealing to your dog (or cat) so be very wary of spills or leaks from car engines
  • Make sure your car is in good condition and is not leaking either antifreeze or oil, especially if you let your pet out near to where you park your car
  • Also be wary of other people’s vehicles which pose another possible source of antifreeze leaks, although not likely – it is definitely something to be keeping an eye open for whilst out walking
  • Consider an antifreeze product that is non-toxic or pet friendly – some antifreezes now include a bittering compound to make the stuff less appealing to the tastebuds!

The Cool, Dry Air & Grooming

Cool air is lacking in moisture, a problem for both us and our pets, make sure to take extra care that your pet’s skin doesn’t dry and become cracked.

  • Thorough drying is essential to make sure the already weakened skin and paw-pads aren’t overloaded by the dry air – drying helps to reduce the likelihood of cracks in the paw pads
  • The dry air removes moisture from the skin, consider using conditioning dog shampoos to lock in moisture
  • Dogs grow a longer, thicker ‘winter coat’ over the winter months, it is important to increase your grooming frequency to make sure this thick coat doesn’t become tangled or matted. A tangled coat reduces its ability to trap an insulating layer of air
  • Short haired dogs require extra grooming too! The dry air dries out the skin – grooming can stimulate their hair follicles to generate extra, moisturising oils which keep the skin healthy

Avoiding Christmas Complications

Winter isn’t just about trying to outwit the cold, it is also a time for celebration! By now, you have probably started your Christmas preparations, so here is some advice to keep your dog safe during the festive period.

  • Christmas plants such as Poinsettia, Holly, Mistletoe and Lilies can all be toxic to your dog. Cats too may also be inclined to have a nibble on your Christmas plants. Try to avoid having these plants around the house as if eaten they can cause digestive upset. If you do want to have them around the house though, make sure they are far out of any pet’s reach
  • Christmas lights and Christmas decorations are as attractive to pets as they are to us. Curious canines may decide to have a chew on your decorations so make sure they are well out of your dog’s reach, tinsel can be particularly dangerous if your dog manages to eat it! If your dog is the wire-chewing-type you might want to hide those trailing Christmas light wires whilst you’re at it
  • It’s not just decorations that your pet might decide to chew on, gifts and parcels under the tree and the small bits of plastic that seem to appear around Christmas time are all apparently tasty if you are a dog
  • If you have a natural pine tree, regularly remove the needle droppings as your dog may also be inclined to eat these, they can also get stuck in paw pads. Take care that the tree is properly stabilised too (especially if there are edible ornaments on the tree) as your dog is fully capable of bringing an unstabilised tree to the ground to get at those tasty looking decorations
  • Remember that Christmas food and drink such as turkey (bones), chocolate and wine can all be dangerous if consumed. Bones can get lodged, chocolate (if eaten in large quantities) can be toxic to dogs and we all know the effects of wine…

Other Holiday Hazards

Just a few final words of advice for the holiday period. As it is a time for celebration, people are often out at house parties either seeing in the New Year or celebrating with festive cheer. If you are hosting a party, make sure your pet can deal with all the stress of having all those extra people in ‘their’ home! If you think they might need a little help staying calm, try feeding them a large meal or giving them a calming supplement with their dinner. This is also true for New Year fireworks, make sure they have somewhere they can retreat to and feel safe and if necessary be sure to give them something to keep them calm!

If you are out and about over the festive period, make sure your pet has everything available (such as food and water) when you leave and don’t leave gifts, chocolates or decorations lying in your pet’s reach. Dogs will happily consume every ounce of chocolate left unattended by the unwary!

Your Thoughts

It’s not all doom and gloom! Just be sure to act with common sense over the holidays and make sure you have fun! If you have any further tips you’d like to share with us, please leave them below! Do you have any embarrassing, funny or cautionary Christmas pet tales? If so, do share!

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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  1. Great tips! I am a snow dog so I LOVE the cold weather, but DeDe dog isn’t as tolerant of the cold.

  2. Wow – that sure is a lot of things to watch out for!! Glad you posted this list!! Gonna have to make sure my Mum pays attention – at least we don’t have to worry about snow though, pretty unlikely we’ll get any here in California…..

    Have a fun day,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

  3. Thanks for all your well considered tips – am definately more dog aware having read this……

  4. So much great information! thanks! Glad to visit via the Saturday Pet Blogger Blog Hop!

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