It could be freezing cold outside with five feet of snow and our pets will still want to go outside to play and explore. Even the smallest of our 4-legged family members (both cats and dogs) enjoy a good outdoor winter adventure now and then. Pets with a healthy hair coat and undercoat usually don’t have a problem with maintaining their core body temperature in cold weather as long as they keep active and continually moving. If your pet doesn’t have a very thick hair coat, putting a doggy coat or vest on them can help keep their core warm.
Your pet’s body responds to cold temperatures by keeping its blood supply focused on the main organs in the body so they don’t become damaged from hypothermia. Tiny blood vessels in the ears, tail and paws constrict in attempt to preserve core body heat and keep blood moving toward the vital organs. If this shift in the blood supply away from extremities goes on for too long, frostbite can occur. Freezing temperatures allow tiny ice crystals to form within the exposed tissues while the blood is not fully circulating to them. These ice crystals injure and can destroy healthy skin cells. If your pet is wet or damp, their tissue is even more vulnerable to frostbite.
Frostbitten tissue is usually noticeable within a few hours of warming up. It may cause the tissue in the area to initially appear pale or gray. It may also still feel hard and cold once your pet’s body has warmed up. As the tissue begins to thaw, it may appear red and can be very painful. In severe cases, the damaged tissue may eventually turn black and slough off.
Dogs and cats with extra hair between their toes can sometimes build up little ice balls between the toes, which can be very uncomfortable. Salt used on the roads can be quite irritating to your pet’s paws. Be sure to clean their paws once you arrive back home. You can also get little booties for them to wear when walking outside in winter conditions (although it may affect their “cool” look!) to keep their paws clean and comfortable.
If you think your pet has been exposed to extreme cold temperatures, move them into a warm and dry indoor area (or even into a warm vehicle) as soon as possible. Wrap your pet in warm, dry towels or blankets to improve their circulation and increase their core body temperature. If you think there are areas of frostbite, do not rub or massage the affected areas. Allow the circulation to return naturally as your pet’s body warms up. Your veterinarian may need to prescribe your pet pain medication and antibiotics (to prevent secondary bacterial infection in cases of tissue death and sloughing) in severe frostbite situations.
The following are some tips to help lengthen your senior dog’s life:
Regular exercise is great for the body and brain. Physical fitness can help keep your dog’s heart and lungs in good working order, help keep their joints and muscles in check, prevent boredom to help stop any destructive behavior and give them a sense of purpose.
Exercising your senior pet doesn’t mean that they have to tear up an agility course for hours on end or hike up the Squamish Chief in under an hour twice a day. Only exercise your dog at a level their aging body can handle. Swimming is always a great workout for weak joints and muscles. A couple moderately paced 20-minute walks every day can also work wonders for keeping your senior dog in shape. Being outside is also great for your senior dog’s mind. There are many stimuli to keep their brains sharp and fresh air will always brighten spirits.
When indoors with your dog, play games such as hide-and-seek or practice tricks (yes, you really can teach an old dog new tricks!) for low calorie treats. Keeping busy with different activities and games throughout the day will give their senior brains a new lease on life.
Keeping your senior dog’s body nice and lean will help prolong their life. Extra weight visible on the outside of their bodies also means there is extra fatty tissue around their organs, which could cause them to have a hard time working efficiently. Having to carry all that extra weight around means more strain and stress on their joints. Be careful not to feed your senior pet too many treats. It is always a great idea to meal feel them set amounts of food twice daily. Your veterinary team can help you to determine what their ideal weight should be and how much food you need to feed to reach the target weight goal.
Brushing your dog’s teeth provides much more benefit than fresh breath. It helps eliminate plaque and tartar buildup, which help prevent gingivitis. Decreasing the amount of bacteria lurking in your dog’s mouth will help keep their internal organs working in tip-top shape. When their gums are swollen and irritated, the blood vessels become enlarged and are able to pick up bacteria to transfer around the entire body. Brushing your dog’s teeth once a day is ideal. Be sure to use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a toothpaste designed especially for dogs.
*Warning* Below are before dental prophylaxis and after dental prophylaxis photos of a dog’s mouth:
Daily petting fests can often help you find lumps and bumps on your dog in their early stages of development. Your veterinarian can take a fine needle aspirate sample from the lump and determine what kind of cells it is made up of. Some lumps should be removed immediately; some lumps are ok to be left alone and just monitored. Hands-on attention to your dog could also help you find any skin irritations hiding under their hair or you may notice they have dry, flaky skin. A flinch or cry when petting in a certain area may alert you to take your senior dog to their veterinarian to have the cause of pain investigated further. Being petted and massaged makes your dog happy and helps lower their blood pressure and stress level, as well as yours.