update: October, 2009
When winter finally shows its teeth, here are some canine related safety tips to remember.
Most dogs will benefit from direct paw protection such as booties and paw wax, available at local pet supply shops.
To protect paws from burning from sidewalk "ice melt", paw wax liberally applied to the pads before heading out works pretty well for the duration. However booties will protect paws from ice melt as well as paw injury caused by crusted ice, or ice balls that collect in the hair between paw pads and toes.
But try and keep them on...
While there have been notable improvements over this past year in the case of booties, it’s advisable to ask your fellow dog owners which type stay put on a particular breed.
Note from Paul Kowacki, FIDO SC member, Massachusetts...
Dogs can incur an injury to their knee, requiring surgery, or twist their back, causing a fibrocartilaginous injury that is the equivalent of a ruptured disc in a human. We don't use boots on our dogs, as I suspect the dogs own pads and nails give the best grip. I'd think boots would be good for use to/from a park, but take them off for play.
Trimming hair between pads and toes may help prevent ice balls and abrasive crud from plaguing your dog’s feet.
Again from Paul....
In regard to clipping the hair from between the toes of a dog, to prevent ice ball buildup, our experience is that it is best to leave the hair that is actually between the toes, but keep it clipped even with the pad surfaces. This may not apply as much to some breeds, but for our golden retrievers it works better. We still get some buildup, but less so.
Also, I suspect that the hairs serve a space-filling function, and perhaps act like the cilia in your bronchial passages (where movement carries junk out of the airway), in that the hairs move around with walking, and help move some of the snow or ice back out. It may also be reasonable to think that the hair helps block ice-melting chemicals from making it all the way to the tender skin that lines the deep areas between the toes. Of course a quick wash of each paw in a bucket of warm clear water, after being on the streets, is a great idea.
Signs that your dog has uncomfortable painful feet include: whining, lifting of paws or frequently stopping on walks. If you suspect frozen paws, gently wash out the feet with warm water as opposed to brushing which may injure frozen paw tissue.
Of course you have to be able to stay upright on your own feet while your dog tugs you down an icy sidewalk...
FIDO member and Newfie owner, Chris Hubbard, recommends anti-slip 'things' for shoes called Yak Trax - available on the Internet for roughly $15-$20. Says they' were absolutely awesome while living in Colorado!
Conserve Body Heat...
Cold weather dangers include chills and discomfort, hypothermia and frostbite. In general the shorter the hair/fur the greater the protection your dog will need from the cold.
Thin dogs, dogs with poor circulation, cardiovascular conditions, endocrine disorders; elderly dogs and puppies may not do well in extreme conditions. Dogs with diabetes may have impaired ability to cope with cold weather and may also have an impaired ability to feel pain, and thus not complain. For the overindulged hound, know that body fat offers some protection from the cold.
When in doubt ask a fellow dog owner who has had winter experience with a similar breed/mix.
Commercially available from local shops while custom coats and pullovers can be found on-line. Garments that cover the chest and abdomen as well as the back, provide better protection for vital organs such as the heart and lungs than do garments that primarily cover the back and sides. This is especially true if you have an older dog who might tend to lie down on the cold ground or snow. Remember to specify male or female when ordering garments - your male dog will thank you!
When The Temperature Drops..
Frequently check your dog during walk and play by slipping your hand into their garment to be sure they’re still warm beneath the sweater or coat. The temperature difference you feel on your dogs clothed areas verses unclothed areas will often be quite apparent. Feel the chest, abdomen, sides, and front of the neck. Feel the feet and especially the ears.
As in humans, dog’s ear tips are susceptible to frostbite. Frequently feel the dog’s ears with your bare hands to be certain his ears are not to cold. A muff over the upper neck and lower head can insulate against the cold. You can make a head muff for your dog by cutting the top off a long acrylic human hat so that it becomes a long cylinder shape; simply pull it over the head. Muffs are also commercially available.
Never rub the direct area. Consult your vet! Dogs uncomfortable with the cold may be in a hurry to get back inside, therefore may not fully relieve themselves and may have frequent accidents. If your doggie becomes chilled, get them inside immediately; handle gently and re-warm in dry bedding and blankets. Better yet snuggle up with your pal using your own body heat for comfort.
Your Own Safety...
Wear contrasting colors against the snow that will help ensure that your dog is seen by drivers who must deal with reduced visibility from weather conditions or windshields encumbered by condensation, mud or ice. In addition, a driver may see the person walking the dog but not see the dog; or not see all the dogs if more than one animal is being walked.
Ice on the Lake? Big No No!
Never let your pooch out onto a frozen pond because there may be thin areas. Falling through ice can be fatal to both dog and the owner who attempts a rescue.
Electrified Sidewalk Plates/Manhole Covers...
Streetzaps.com is a non-partisan initiative organized and led by Blair Sorrel to reduce the year round risk of injury and fatality from contact voltage shocking or electrocution resulting from damaged or tampered wiring. Report a hazard to 311 first - then to streetzaps.
Electrified encounters on the sidewalk just may be one of the most unrecognized and under-diagnosed problems facing the urban dog during the winter season.
Salt applied to icy streets and sidewalks makes its way to the electrical infrastructure below the surface where it corrodes aging wires and generally enhances conductivity of stray voltage.
A few years ago a dog named Barkus was electrocuted here in Park Slope on Third Street just above 4th Avenue. An unused, unsealed lamppost connection buried in the concrete leaked live voltage all the way to the surface.
Most dog owners will simply not recognize stray voltage when it happens unless a dog is shocked so severely that he yelps, can't move; shake violently or the human feels an electrical shock as well. The reaction of a stoic well behaved dog who suddenly bolts or pulls may be dismissed, while the lesser trained dog who pulls all the time will be seen as behaving in character consistent with his disposition.
Three winters ago, Denali, a Spinone Italiano was on his way home from the park when he leaped into the air seemingly for no reason, a behavior way out of character. Immediately stray voltage was suspected yet there was no apparent injury to his paws. Annabell, a Great Dane who had been walking next to Denali was unaffected, having apparently just missed the voltage spot.
Called 311 Immediately...
There was an immediate response from the Fire Dept as well as Con Edison. Con Ed expressed concern for Denali's welfare and later confirmed the presence of stray voltage that had even electrified the metal areaway fence on the corner house! Con Edison did a lot of refurbishing of power lines at many local intersections during the course of that winter.
Again look for the following warning signs...
Your dog may suddenly bolt for no reason. They may appear frozen in a spot, shaking violently. They may have a street lamp or spot on the sidewalk that they’re afraid of. These are all good indicators of trouble brewing. Stray electricity is invisible so give your dog the benefit of the doubt. If your dog wants to avoid a section of sidewalk it may be for good reason.
DO NOT reach in to assist your dog!
Touching your dog if they collapse may prove fatal to you as well! Several years ago, a woman died trying to rescue her dogs from an electrified metal grating in the East Village and the rescuing officers were also severely shocked.
Reconsider letting you dog urinate on lampposts. The traditional fire hydrant is a lot safer. Take a look at the street lamps in your area. Are there loose wires visible? Are all of the panels in place or is there obvious need of repair? Call 311 immediately. Rubber soled dog shoes or boots probably offer substantial protection.
Finally: Don’t Eat Green Snow; Blue Snow…
Yellow snow is bad enough but green/blue snow represents icy puddles of antifreeze. Antifreeze poisoning is a true medical emergency that kills far more pets than electrocution.
Antifreeze is sweet tasting, and occasionally gets spilled or leaked in the street and may be swallowed by dogs sneaking a puddle to relieve thirst or just licking their paws after walking through it. If you suspect antifreeze poisoning contact a veterinarian immediately!