Oklahoma has finally decided to truly participate in winter with the temperatures in the teens at night. This poses real problems for pets left outside overnight. Even the pet that just goes out to potty or take a walk with you can have issues with the cold, wet weather.
Exposed foot pads are especially vulnerable to the ice, packed balls of snow between toes, salt and chemicals that may have been used to melt the ice and snow. If you take a walk with your pet when ice and snow are present, be sure to carry along a towel so the paws and between the pads can be cleaned frequently. Some dogs will accept wearing booties (and some will not). Booties certainly can help to protect the feet from the many things that can irritate them in the weather.
Just going out for potty breaks can initiate sore feet also. If possible, shaving the areas between the toes and around the feet can help to prevent balls of ice and snow from collecting and irritating. Using pet-friendly ice-melt products in and around your dog’s outdoor area can certainly help since it is not nearly as irritating to tissue. Rubbing petroleum jelly into the pads and around the toe areas before the pet goes outside will help to prevent cold, icy residue from coming into contact with the feet and help protect between the toes.
Paws can chap just as our hands do in the wintry, blustery weather. Rubbing hand lotion or petroleum jelly lightly into the pads can help prevent cracking and chapping. These are best applied after a tepid water rinse of the feet following the outside visit, as well as before going outside.
Many people think dogs are fine living outside, but even the Alaskan huskies on sled teams need and are given special care when the weather is extreme. Sure, these larger-breed dogs can fare better when the temperature drops, much more so than smaller breeds and smooth-coated dogs. However, think about yourself out in this weather all night, even with appropriate coats and winter boots. If it is too cold for you to be comfortable and not lose an ear, finger or toe, then it is too cold for a dog.
Small-breed dogs, especially smooth-coated ones such as Chihuahuas or Dachshunds, will never be able to withstand weather in the teens outside. Body surface area is inversely proportionate to size. The smaller the dog, the greater the relative surface area being exposed to the cold, for the amount of heat its body can generate.
Frostbite can and does occur in animals left out in cold weather. If it is cold enough for us to need a face cover, mask or scarf, then our dogs or cats can be at risk for frostbite. Frostbite primarily affects tips of ears, toes and tails. Edges of long floppy ears are especially susceptible. Testicles and nipple areas on females that have had puppies recently are also susceptible.
Be sure to check outdoor animal’s water frequently when temperatures are below freezing. An animal cannot eat enough snow to satisfy its water needs, and eating snow requires extra bodily energy to warm it inside the body, thereby lowering the animal’sability to generate heat to maintain body temperature in inclement weather.
If a larger, fuzzy breed dog absolutely has to stay outside, a shelter of some kind is essential. Dry bedding is also needed to help maintain body temperature. If the dog house is just big enough to enter and turn around in, then it will also help to retain the dog’s body temperature.
A small corner in the garage or a back room for overnight would certainly be better than being outside all night with temperatures below freezing. If you can’t do it, please don’t ask your pets to do it.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to