A Minnesota veterinarian wants to remind pet owners to pay close attention to their animals – even thick-coated, winter-loving dogs.

“You have your Newfoundlands and St. Bernards – they might not really mind going outside,” says Dr. Nancy Cowardin, veterinarian and owner of Companions Animal Hospital in St. Cloud. “You do still have to be careful not to leave them out for too long, but some of those guys really like this cold weather.”

Dr. Cowardin says small, thin-coated dogs are far more sensitive to the cold than their larger counterparts – and often require a couple extra layers while outside.

“Sweaters, jackets and booties really make a difference,” Dr. Cowardin says. “Even my dog – he’s a lab and he wasn’t out there very long this morning before he was picking up one foot and then picking up another. That’s a sign that their feet are getting pretty cold.”

“So, keep those trips (outside) short, and if you’ve got little jackets and booties, that will help a lot,” she adds.

But, when it comes to outside time for snow-loving dogs, how much is too much?

“That’s a hard question to answer,” Dr. Cowardin says. “You can’t just say, ‘any lab can be outside this long,’ or ‘any greyhound can be out that long.’ There are so many different factors. Do they spend a lot of time outdoors in their kennel? Those dogs are going to be more acclimated and will do better than a dog that is kind of a couch potato.”

Dr. Cowardin says it’s wise to take your dog’s overall health into account when planning outside time during the winter.

“A young, healthy dog is going to be able to tolerate the cold longer a little bit longer than a geriatric dog with a heart problem,” she explains. “So, you just have to know your individual pet. What’s their health status? Do they have a jacket and booties on? If they don’t, it’s going to be a pretty short trip outside in this weather.”

For dogs that enjoy bootie-free winter walks around the neighborhood, Dr. Cowardin suggests scrubbing their paws upon returning home.

“Chemicals and salt can be really hard on their feet,” she said. “Also, if they’re licking their feet and cleaning them off, they’re ingesting chemicals and that can be dangerous, too.”

Dr. Cowardin says it’s also important to limit the amount of time your dog spends in a non-running vehicle during a cold snap.

“You’re definitely not going to be dealing with the wind chill part of things, but it still gets pretty cold in those cars pretty fast,” Dr. Cowardin said. “I wouldn’t leave them in the car for an extended period of time. If you’re going to run into the grocery store to quickly grab something, that should be fine. But, if you’re going to a family member’s house and plan to be there for two or three hours with the pet in the car, that’s too long.”

For dogs that live primarily outdoors, Dr. Cowardin suggests providing a heated garage, barn or kennel amid dangerously cold weather.

“They’re going to need a smaller kennel big enough for them to stand up and turn around in, but not so big that they can’t heat it with their body heat,” she explained. “They need to have some sort of substrate in there – whether it’s blankets or hay – that they can burrow into. Make sure the door of the kennel has a flap to keep the wind out.”

Dr. Cowardin says it’s also important to keep a close eye on your outdoor dog’s food and water.

“Water is going to freeze pretty fast in this weather,” she says. “So, having a heated water dish so they have access to water is a good idea. They’re also going to need a little more access to food, since they’ll be burning more calories just trying to stay warm.”

As we head into the weekend, the National Weather Service predicts wind chill values from Saturday into Sunday will reach 35 to 50 degrees below zero – temperatures that indoor pets aren’t physiologically able to handle for very long.

“When our house pets get out, or something happens and they are accidentally left outside, they’re the ones who can get into trouble pretty quickly,” Dr. Cowardin says. “They’re not ready for that cold weather, so we worry about ear tips or tails freezing. We’ve had dogs come in with frostbitten legs or butts because they were sitting in the snow.”

“It can happen fast, so you need to be really careful.”

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