Care of Pets in extreme Winter

R K Bhardwaj, Himani Sharma
Dogs have been a source of companionship and comfort for their owners and are popular pets in Indian households, and many people consider them as an integral part of their families. According to Statista, population of pet dogs in India is approximately 31.41 million in 2023 and likely to reach more than 43 million by 2026. Winter months, from December 2023 to February 2024, will witness low temperatures over most parts of India, forecasted by Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). In the month of January, 2024the lowest temperature recorded was 3.0ºC in Banihal station, followed by 4.0ºC in Jammu, 5.8ºC in Bhaderwah and 7.2ºC in Katra. With Jammu being the second coldest city in the region due to the prevailing foggy weather conditions.
Heat production in the body of companion animal is mostly due to muscular activities but also due to intracellular oxidation in liver and heart. Conduction, convection, radiation, evaporation and inhaled air are the ways of heat dissipation from the body. Conduction is defined when heat conducts between the body (skin) and environment objects (air or water). Under convection the current movements of fluid (air or water) over the surface of the body enhance heat loss or gain. Electromagnetic exchange of heat between objects in environment and not in direct contact with skin is called as Radiation. Above methods cause 70 per cent heat loss and inhalation of air leads to 3 per cent of heat loss and rest occurs through faeces and urine.
Like us, these fur-coated creatures are used to the warmth of indoor shelter. Winters can be harsh on dogs and can lead to life threatening conditions. Two serious cold weather conditions that you should take care to prevent is Frostbite and Hypothermia.
Frostbite: Frostbite begins when the dog’s body gets cold. The body automatically pulls blood from the extremities to the center of the body to stay warm. The dog’s ears, paws or tail can get so cold that ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage it. They can be extremely painful and no immediately signs are seen. Skin may also turn hard, cold and will eventually turn black and slough off.
Hypothermia: In this body temperature of dog falls below normal. It results when heat loss exceeds the heat production in the body. Normal body temperature of dog is 99.5-102.5ºF or37.5-39.2ºC. This occurs when a dog spends too much time in the cold, gets wet in cold or when dogs with poor health are exposed to cold. Infusion of cold solution or fluid, lying on cold surfaces and depilation or sheering of hairs of dog can also lead to hypothermia in them. In mild cases, the dog will shiver and ears and feet may become cold. As hypothermia progresses, it may show signs of depression, lethargy and weakness. As the condition worsens, dog’s muscles will stiffen, heart and breathing rates slow down, and it will not respond to stimuli. Severe hypothermia is life threatening as progressive hypothermia can cause progressive depression in organ functions in the body. Young animals have poor thermoregulatory mechanism. Emaciated and malnourished animals are more susceptible to hypothermia.
So learn how to recognize the signs that your dog needs to come indoor to warm up and consultation with a veterinarian is very essential in such conditions. As winter is a time when your beloved pets need a little extra care and attention. Following points can be considered for the care of dogs in winters:
Temperature: Some dog breeds are blessed with thick fur that keeps them warm naturally even in very cold temperatures but dogs with thin coats may need to wear a sweater or coat when out for winter walks. A good coat should reach from the neck to the base of tail and should also protect the belly. So don’t keep your short haired dog out too long in freezing temperatures. Examination of body temperature of dog can also be done by owners at home by using thermometer and inserting it into the rectum of dog. Nowadays, digital thermometers are also available, from which easily readings can be obtained.
Thicker bedding at home: Avoid letting your dog sleep on a cold floor in the winter. Choosing the right bedding is vital, so as to ensure that your dog stays warm. Warm blankets and heated pet beds can help to keep the stiffness out of joints, particularly in aging dogs. During transportation of animal try to bring it in car or closed vehicle or just wrap it in blanket, towel or drape.
Protect your dog from heaters: Dogs will often seek heat during cold winter weather by snuggling too close to heating sources. So special attention should be given to avoid your pet getting burned.
Reduce the frequency of Baths: It is not recommended to stop baths completely during winter, but reduce the frequency of baths and consult your veterinarian to find the right moisturizing dog shampoo for winters. Nowadays, dog dry shampoos are also available in market for smelly (odour) coat. Proper drying of body surface is recommended in winter season.
Groom your dog: A clean, well-groomed coat helps keep your dog properly insulated. After bathing, dry your dog thoroughly, especially before allowing your pet outdoors. Brush out old fur to allow a fuller coat to grow in. Clumpy, matted fur do not insulate, and it takes longer to dry. Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. Warm water bath are preferred for dogs in winter season.
Moisturize: Application of Coconut oil is recommended in winters as it act as a good natural moisturizer that can help in keeping your pet’s skin and coat healthy. In case of cracking and dryness around pet’s paws, ears or tail, you can apply coconut oil topically as needed. Multivitamins with essential omega fatty acids can also be given with prescription of a Veterinarian.
Feed and Hydration: Feeding your dog a little bit more during the cold weather months can provide much-needed calories, but keeping the calorie requirement in mind and adjusting it according to their level of activity is essential and making sure it has plenty of water to drink, as it will help keep it well-hydrated and will cause less dry skin. Change their water bowl with room-temperature water after every 2-3 hours, as water bowl can become cold very quickly and dogs will tend to drink less and hence experience dehydration.
Indoor exercise: Limit your pet’s time outside, especially during extreme cold weather and keep them indoors when possible, by indulging in indoor games like playing hide and seek, laying short-range fetch, set-up a small obstacle course, race up and down the stairs and playing a tug-of-war.
Visit Veterinarian: In case of severe drop of temperature and no improvement, bring the animal to a veterinarian there warm intravenous administration of crystalloid fluid is done followed by other medications.
Care according to age: Cold weather often worsens existing medical conditions in dogs, particularly arthritis in senior dogs. As puppies have weak immunity, they are more prone to illnesses during the winter. Very young and old dogs cannot manage cold weather like the way dogs in the prime of their lives do. Hence, they require the utmost care.
Special care for puppies and senior dogs
As puppies have weak immunity, they are more prone to illnesses during the winter weather. Very young and old dogs cannot manage cold weather like the way dogs in the prime of their lives do. Hence, they require the utmost care. Cold weather will often aggravate existing medical conditions in senile dogs, particularly arthritis. If you don’t give your senior dog a natural joint supplement to lubricate the joints and ease the discomfort of arthritis, you may consult a veterinarian for the same in winters. It’s very important to maintain an exercise regimen with your arthritic dog, but be mindful of slippery surfaces and make sure your dog has a warm soft rest area to recuperate after activity. Just like people, dogs are more susceptible to other illnesses during winter weather. Harsh winter weather brings a wide variety of concerns to responsible dog owners. Bitter cold, numbing wetness or biting winds can cause discomfort for that special dog in your life.
Paying special attention to your loyal friend’s wellbeing during the winter season will ensure that you both enjoy the season to the fullest. Enjoy everything that winter has to offer by keeping these winter maintenance suggestions in mind, for the wellbeing of your beloved dog. And don’t forget that winter cuddles with your canine buddy are a great way for everybody to keep warm!
(The authors are from Division of Veterinary Medicine, F.V.Sc & A.H-R.S.Pura, SKUAST-Jammu.)