Dude, It's COLD!

I don't know if you noticed, but it's really cold out.

Yes, it's New England in the winter, but the wind  chill is putting us in the negative teens.The entire country is dealing with this intense cold, which will likely be the driving force behind the Orange Juice Price Hike of 2014.

Actual photo taken this week of the St. Joseph's Lighthouse in Michigan.
Credit: Joshua Nowicki
I've seen everything on Facebook from "get your dog inside - if it's too cold for  you, it's too cold for your dog!" to "Dogs have fur coats and will be fine. I wish I had a fur coat!"

Your Dog Has A Fur Coat: He's Fine! (Or....not)
Cold is cold is cold. Some dogs LOVE this weather. That same dog who loves snow now, might not when she has arthritis, or lives in the city where there might not be as much snow to play in.

Yes, your dog is related to wolves who survive annual frigid conditions, but our domestic dogs are not wolves. For starters, snow is insulating, so for the dogs who are bred for blizzard conditions (like Huskies, Malamutes, and other double coated breeds) the snow greatly helps them survive the bone chilling cold. They curl up in the snow, let the snow fall on them, tuck their feet under their warm body, and their tail covers their nose. They let the snow fall on them and they are very well insulated. This is often not what you find with most dogs in suburban/urban environments - especially Pugs who are both short coated, and their tail won't reach their pushed in nose!

Courtesy of Dr. Sophia Yin (and her article on Cold Weather!)

The dogs that also survive these conditions, like the wolves, need to be conditioned to the cold weather and get physically prepared for it. Dogs running in the Iditarod are not dogs that have lived in a warm apartment for 10 months, then just travel north for a two week jaunt in the Tundra. They train, like Olympians, for endurance, speed, and acclimation to the weather.

Boots? Coats? For my DOG? Really? 

In the city, we shovel sidewalks, exposing the naked pads of their feet to icy concrete. This is perhaps the part I'm most concerned about. The pads of their feet are completely exposed and can get frostbite, just like our exposed skin. Add salt to those sidewalks (to make it easier for people to walk on) and your poor dog is literally adding salt to the wounds of frostbite & cuts caused by the salt.

Do your dog a solid, and condition them to boots if you live in the city.  Not only will it protect your pup from salt, and is the easiest way to prevent ice balls forming in between the paw pads (which can be very painful), but they are easier to clean than Mushers Wax (more on that in a moment). If conditioning them to boots is not an option, keep your walks brief and keep their skin safe.

Dogs can also suffer frostbite to their ears, nose, and other exposed areas. Short haired breeds (like the French Bulldog, Pointer, Greyhounds, etc) don't have enough fur or fat to be protective with these conditions, so consider getting these dogs a jacket for their morning walk.

Lastly, older dogs can't regulate their temperature as easily. If your pet suffers from arthritis or other age related conditions, a coat can help them feel more comfortable.

A Note On Mushers Wax/Mushers Secret:
I grew up with a dog-sledding team and we used wax on their paws frequently to prevent snow balls turning to ice between the dogs paws, which can cause significant pain. It is basically like chap-stick, in that it was a thin protective layer against the elements, but I wouldn't consider it a means of keeping my lips warm. It also doesn't prevent salt from cutting into the skin.

In the city, Mushers Secret is  better than nothing, but it really is designed for running in the snow. Salt on sidewalks can stick to the wax, creating a nice mess to clean up with your dog runs through your house when you get home. It's not designed to keep their paws warm, it's not designed explicitly for salt protection, and they can still get frostbite, especially if they are walking through cold slush or bare sidewalks. That being said, it is absolutely better than nothing at all. I just don't want you to think that if you have Mushers Wax on your dogs paws, that your dog is totally 100% protected, and go on an epic 8 mile walk in the city with your pup in this weather. It's much better for an epic romp in the woods on freshly fallen snow, or for a short walk around your neighborhood.

Final Thoughts:
If you are a city dweller, condition your dog to liking the boots - one boot at a time, over a period of a few days. Then add a second boot, and continue until your dog is really comfortable with the process. This will ensure your dog is comfortable and conditioned properly.

Or, just go hog wild, put all four paws in the boots, and upload your pup to Youtube.

Get your pup, especially short coated dogs, older dogs, and dogs who can't regulate their temperatures very well, a snazzy warm coat. Keep an eye on their ears, nose and paw pads, as they will likely be the first to show signs of frostbite.

And as our dogs are related to wolves, they are no more wolves than we are chimps. Though I love the idea of climbing trees on the equator, I'm not conditioned for it, and neither is my Border Collie to the Polar Vortex. We're staying in and staying warm.

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