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  • By Lisa Jevens

Help your dog weather the winter

Just because your dog has a fur coat and some meat on her bones doesn't make her winter-proof. As the cold sets in, there are some things you should do to help take care of your dog during the winter.

Feed 'em right

You can start by re-evaluating your dog's food, shelter and exercise routine. "If they spend a great deal of time outdoors, they need more calories so they can stay warm and maintain their body temperature," says Dr. Ted Cohn, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "This is definitely true for dogs that live in outdoor kennels."

He recommends asking your vet what type of food your dog should be eating, and how much, as dogs of different breeds and different ages have different needs.

Like us, dogs can turn into couch potatoes in the winter and put on weight. The AVMA encourages dog owners to be vigilant about keeping their pet at a healthy weight throughout the winter.

"Some pet owners feel that a little extra weight gives their pet some extra protection from cold, but the health risks associated with that extra weight don't make it worth doing," the AVMA says.

Cohn recommends cutting back slightly on food and treats, or switching to a low-calorie dog food if the dog is less active. And watch those holiday table scraps.

When changing a dog's food, be sure to mix the new food with the old food gradually over a period of days, to avoid stomach upset and diarrhea caused by a sudden change.

And be sure to keep enough dog food, treats and medication on hand to weather a storm. If you become housebound, you don't want to run out of essentials.

Bring 'em in

According to the AVMA, the most important thing a dog owner can do in the winter is bring their dog indoors, and not force it to live outside in the cold in the first place.

"It's a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it's untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather," the AVMA says.

If you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, the AVMA recommends providing her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that she has unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl. The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground to minimize heat loss, and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly. The door to the shelter should be out of the wind. Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.

Pause for paws

What if your dog refuses to go outside in the cold?

"The pads of their feet may be sensitive," Cohn says. He suggests buying booties or avoiding salty sidewalks, which can burn dogs' paws. And be sure to rinse off that salt when they come inside. You can also buy the pet-friendly salt for your sidewalks and driveway.

Shorthaired dogs will appreciate a sweater or jacket so they can still enjoy walks. Older dogs with arthritis may not be able to go as far as they do in warmer weather. But they still need the same amount of exercise they were getting before the cold set in.

"You may have to alter your routine and take them out more frequently," Cohn says. "Don't just put them outside in the yard and close the door. Go out with them." ​

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune "From House to Home" section, and on on August 10, 2017.

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