CRYSTAL LAKE – Frosty paws and frozen tails can mean big trouble for man’s best friend.
With wind chills dropping to 40 degrees below zero and temperatures expected to fall to single digits again in the coming days, this winter has been just as dangerous for dogs as the people who care for them.
The greatest threat to pets needing to go outdoors is frostbite to ears, tails and paws. Frostbite to pads on the paws causes open wounds that make it painful for dogs to walk, but it can be treated. Frostbite to ears or tails would have much worse consequences and likely result in amputation, said local veterinarian Christina Bemis.
“Anytime the temperature is below 40 you should start taking precautions,” said Bemis, who works at the Crystal Lake Veterinary Hospital. “Wind chill can be especially dangerous if dogs are outside for a long time.”
Bemis said she recommended putting sweaters on small dogs for extra protection and wiping off the pads of any size dog with a towel when it comes back inside to remove any ice or salt. Salt can also be dangerous to dogs, irritating their paws and causing problems if they ingest it, which is why Bemis said to make sure dogs do not chew at their paws after coming inside.
She also recommended pet-safe salt as it has a different chemical makeup.
For dogs that must stay outside, a proper doghouse is necessary to provide shelter from the wind, and water needs to be heated to avoid freezing. Bemis also said an elevated surface for the dog to sleep on is important. Straw, not hay, can produce more insulation.
Owners of puppies can have a more difficult time, said Ravelle Schwab, who helps take care of dozens of dogs at Helping Paws Animal Shelter in Woodstock.
Schwab said when it comes to puppies, many are reluctant to go outside in the cold. She said it may be necessary to pick the puppy up to bring it outside during house training, and then pick it up to bring it back inside so it does not walk on the cold surface.
Shoveling a clear path can help in some cases, but other creative methods could be used. Schwab said she had to rubber band socks to the paws of her small cockashon dog at home to convince it go outside.
“No matter the size of the dog, when it is as cold as it had been, they shouldn’t be outside for more than five minutes at a time,” Schwab said. “It requires more trips but for shorter times.”
Cutting down time outside can cause dogs to get a case of cabin fever, Schwab said. Having toys or games to stimulate the dog and keep it can active can help combat the lack of exercise in the cold weather.
Schwab said more calls come into the shelter about strays during winter months but it is often too full to accept many more animals. Providing something as simple as a cardboard box outside with a blanket in it can help outdoor or stray cats that cannot be placed in a shelter.