Winter safeguards for city dogs

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

New York City winters can be serious all that ice, snow and blustery weather, keeping streets and sidewalks clear and safe to navigate takes some heavy duty doing. That means tons of salt, sand and chemical deicers which can harm and irritate paw pads and can be dangerous if ingested. Keeping warm indoors means dry heated air which can create dry skin in both human and canine. Here are some tips to help you and your dog make it through to spring:- Chemical deicers are mostly chloride salts which may contain magnesium, potassium, calcium or sodium. These salts are engineered to melt ice and snow as quickly as possible and are frequently heavily applied to city sidewalks. Contact with these caustic chemicals may be a source of great discomfort for most dogs and can make winter walks truly uncomfortable for both you and your dog. (The uses of these chemicals are also problematic for urban birds, squirrels, feral cats, groundwater and storm runoff.)

Your dog may express overt discomfort on contact with salt and deicers. For example, my dog, Daisy, will stop, whimper, hold up an affected paw and then proceed to attempt to lick off the offending material. Or your dog may appear more reluctant to take walks and more eager to return. If at all possible, chemical deicers should be avoided. (Bathing your dog’s feet in a bowl of warm water on return home is always a good idea, no matter what the weather.)

- Booties are one way to protect the feet of your dog. When shopping for booties make sure to purchase a set which have actually been designed to fit dog paws appropriately. If your dog refuses to wear them or balks at the sight, think either novelty or fit. And while you can get your dog used to the idea of wearing booties (offer treats before, during and after trying on and wearing), you surely do not want to get your dog to accept wearing shoes that hurt. A popular brand of doggie galoshes are rubber booties that resemble balloons. Disposable, reusable and affordable, these paw coverings do work but must be put on carefully to avoid catching a dog’s sensitive dewclaw. Again, practice beforehand with feeding treats at the same time to create positive associations with winter footwear. Removing them without the elastic snapping your dog’s paw in the process also takes some focus. If you do use booties for your pet, remember to rinse them off after use. (continued below)

- Caught in the latest snow storm without paw protectors? Carry one moist washcloth in a plastic bag and another dry one in a separate bag. If your dog reacts to deicers you can remove them on the spot. Make sure to wipe and dry as thoroughly as possible.

- An emollient protectant that is applied directly to your dog’s paw pads is another product that promises to protect from winter sidewalks as well as hot asphalt in the summer. While this may be effective against the driven snow, chemical deicers seem to penetrate despite the product’s claims. Advantages to using this type of product are in the ease of use and the added benefit of conditioning paw pads along with protecting them.

- Leaving your dog tied outside while you run an errand inside is never a good idea in any kind of weather, and now it can be illegal. The City Council passed a law several years ago banning owners from tethering dogs wearing choke or pinch collars. The law also prohibits leaving a dog without food, water or shelter for more than 15 minutes while tied up.

- When it comes to coats, it comes down to what your dog is already wearing and what type of breed you have. When purchasing a dog coat look for something that will also protect your dog’s underside, the part most exposed to the sidewalk. Also, try and get something fitted for a dog and not a human better dog coats are modeled more along the lines of a horse blanket and not a parka.

Puppies typically have less body fat than adults so they would most always benefit from a coat. Huskies, Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs, etc., are probably not going to appreciate any extra clothing in this weather, but most other breeds might. Also, if your dog sports a show cut such as a cocker spaniel’s where most of the dog’s upper coat has been shaved off, you definitely want to go for the dog coat.

- Indoors, the dry heated air found in most NYC apartments affects both you and your pet. Try and pay extra attention to grooming your dog in the winter season. Brushing your dog can distribute oils throughout the coat and benefit the skin by stimulating blood flow. Brushing also controls matting, which can be a source of harmful bacteria. Remember, your dog only needs to be bathed once a month. And you can use conditioner after you shampoo your dog (and which reduces static electricity) as long as you rinse extra thoroughly.

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