We all like to snuggle up on the couch with our beloved dogs during the colder months and comfy couch time is a great opportunity to do a quick overall scan of your pet’s health.
Here’s my best advice and what to watch out for when it comes to taking care of your pet during winter.
Coat and skin
Begin with checking their coat and skin. Is their coat smooth and shiny? In winter we often let our pets coats grow longer and thicker, which means they are prone to getting matted. Regular brushing stimulates hair growth and helps spread natural oils through the coat and skin while removing loose hairs and debris.
Not only that, brushing also reduces that unwanted doggy smell and encourages a healthy skin and coat. There’s a heartwarming reason to brush your best friend too: grooming is a wonderful way to bond with your best friend. For the most part, it feels good too while allowing you to inspect the skin for lumps, bumps, parasites or abnormalities. And of course, if you find any of these, see your vet.
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Check their paws and nails; do they need a trim?
If your dog has shorter hair, it’s still important to maintain their coat. Short haired dogs such as Greyhounds, Staffys and Whippets (among others) may require a jacket to keep warm throughout winter.
When was the last time you washed your dog?
Remember to only wash them no more than every 4-6 weeks unless they are very dirty or your vet has prescribed otherwise. Wipes are a great in-between wash alternative to keep them smelling fresh.
How often do you check your dog for paralysis ticks?
Ticks are most prevalent in the warmer months from August to April, however in many areas you’ll find ticks all year round. I recommend inspecting for ticks throughout the year by doing the following:
- Slowly walk your fingers through the coat, feeling the skin for lumps. If you live in a tick prone area, do this daily. If you’ve traveled to a tick area, check your dog daily while you are there, and continue checking for two weeks after you return.
- Start at the face: inspect around the eyes, under the lips and around the gums including the roof of the mouth.
- Move up towards the ears. Check the ear canals and folds, gently inspecting in and outside the ears.
- Work down the neck and around the folds. Remove the collar.
- Continue through the neck and into the shoulder, inspecting each section down the leg and to the paws. Gently inspect the crevices in your dog’s pads. Move back up the leg and repeat on the other front leg.
- Continue inspecting through the coat on the sides, back and belly.
- Check each hind leg, repeating the process through the paws.
- Follow through along the entire length of the tail. Look underneath the tail and around the anus and genitals.
- Return though the body for a thorough check of the back and belly, including armpits. Take your time, make the methodical check. Have a handful of treats to reward and reassure your dog as you go.
- If your dog has a long and thick coat, you may want to consider clipping them especially if you live in a known tick area.
- If you suspect tick paralysis see your vet immediately (in the meantime, withhold food and water, keeping your dog cool, quiet and minimize stress or excitement as this can make the paralysis worse).
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Us humans are more sedentary in winter and our pets tend to be too, making them prone to weight gain. To check if your pet is overweight, follow these simple steps whilst watching your favorite Netflix show:
- Can you feel their ribs when you gently run your hands over their ribcage?
- Is their abdomen tucked up behind the rib cage when you look at your pet’s profile?
- Can you see your pet’s waist behind their ribs when you stand above them?
If you answered NO to any of the questions, your precious pet may have a weight problem.
To combat those extra kilos it’s best you start with a vet examination. Your vet will make sure there are no underlying health problems and will give you an indication of what their ideal body weight should be. Next, you need to ensure they are fed premium quality food, following the feeding guidelines for their ideal body weight, not the weight they currently are. Divide this total daily amount into 2-3 smaller meals per day. Treats should make up no more than 10 percent of their diet and if you are feeding treats, make sure you reduce the portion of their main meal. Continue with regular daily exercise and be patient – weight loss can take several months to occur. Visit your vet every two weeks for a weigh in so that you can monitor your pet’s progress.
Does your dog’s wet nose mean they have a cold?
Humans get viruses and common colds in winter however dogs don’t get coughs and colds in the same frequency as we do. If your dog has a mild clear runny nose but they are otherwise well, this is not usually anything to be worried about.
A wet nose is a result of normal mucus production and your dog licking their nose. Clear and watery mucus keeps the nose and nasal passages moist, improving scent detection. While normal wetness is ok, excessive amounts of nasal discharge can indicate a problem. Environmental particles such as dust, smoke and pollen can cause irritation and allergies. Watch out for white, yellow, green, brown or bloody discharge as this may be a sign of something more serious that will need your vet’s assessment.
While you’re looking at your dog’s nose, check out their teeth. Do they need to be cleaned?
Joints / arthritis
Joints tend to stiffen and become more painful in cooler weather for both dogs and humans. Look to see if they are experiencing any limping when they walk or are reluctant to do usual activities, such as running up the stairs, jumping on the couch or into the car. I often see a flare up in pets coming to me associated with arthritis in the cooler months as it is especially uncomfortable for older dogs.
So how to best comfort joint aches for them during winter?
- See your vet: Always see your vet to get a proper diagnosis first. They will prescribe appropriate medications and recommend specific treatment if required.
- Shed those extra pounds: Being overweight puts extra strain on your pet’s joints, so make sure you maintain them at their ideal body weight.
- Keep them toasty: Ensure your dog’s bedding is cozy, cushioned and away from drafts. Elevated beds can be beneficial for some. Older dogs and those with short coats may need pet clothing to keep them warm.
- Warm up those muscles: Just like us, dogs will get sore muscles if they don’t do proper warm-ups before exercise. Start with a brisk walk to loosen muscles before they have a play at the park. For senior dogs, take slow, shorter walks.
- Physiotherapy: There are animal physiotherapists available to provide additional rehabilitation support for your pet.
- Swimming and hydrotherapy: If a warm water pool or pet hydrotherapy facility is nearby, regular sessions will keep the mobile joints in a low-impact way, while strengthening the supporting muscles.
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Winter household dangers
Our dogs are curious creatures – and they also like to stay warm and cozy – so it’s only natural that they gravitate towards heaters, particularly if we’ve only just brought them back into the house from the garage. Try to familiarize your dog with new appliances when they’re brought into the house to avoid them being unexpectedly burnt by them. Similarly, always ensure dogs are kept away from open fires by using fireplace guards.
We might like to snuggle up in bed with a hot water bottle, but our pets don’t need that. It also goes for bathroom heat mats. They can burn a dog’s paws. If your dog is prone to occasionally peeing on the bed, be very careful using an electric blanket. There are many beautiful dog jackets and jumpers on the market to keep our pets warm. Just be sure to fit them properly and ensure they’re not too tight.
If you live in a frost-prone area, ensure that your dogs have no access to anti-freeze, radiator fluid or products that contain ethylene glycol – this is extremely toxic and can cause death.
The cold weather and rain makes exercising less desirable for humans in winter but it’s not the case for dogs. Be sure to regularly walk your dogs in winter. If it’s raining be sure to give them some mental stimulation with interactive toys.
Book a check up
If you haven’t taken your dog to the vet in a while, I recommend doing so in the winter months when you might have a bit more spare time. Pop down to your local vet and get an annual blood test done – even if your pet looks normal, your vet can pick up early health conditions. Early detection often results in a better treatment outcome. I recommend a vet check up at least once a year for dogs under the age of seven and twice a year for dogs over the age of seven (age five for giant breeds). An annual blood test for dogs in the 5-7 + group is also a great idea.
Dr Lisa Chimes is a practicing Australian veterinarian who works in the emergency and critical care department at the Small Animal Specialist Hospital. She is the founder of DOG by Dr. Lisa and CAT by Dr. Lisa.
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There’s a reason this dog looks so guilty