A Winter's Tail: Southwest Dog Experts Dispense Dog Advice for Colder Climes
There are lots of dogs in Southwest Minneapolis, and each one is different. It got this writer thinking about how we can best survive the coldest months of winter with our canine companions.
It's a fact of winter dog ownership: They have to do their business, and they have to do it outside. My five-month-old shih tzu-maltese puppy Daisy seems oblivious to the cold. She loves it, can't get enough. Then there's my four-year-old shih tzu-Bichon Pogo who stands on the ice lifting alternate legs like a defeated gecko on a hot Tunisian dune, all the while looking at me with those anime eyes as if to ask, “Why?”
So to answer this and many other dog-related cold weather questions, I set out to enlist the help of some knowledgeable Southwest canine care specialists.
Curtis Johnson, aka “Citizen Kanine” was my first call. You've probably read about him on Southwest Minneapolis Patch, and seen him in the neighborhood around Java Jacks at 46th Street and Bryant Avenue. Johnson is almost always accompanied by at least eight or ten dogs big and small linked together and proceeding quietly in unison down the sidewalk. Yes, he walks dogs, but he does so much more. He's got the magic touch that keeps them disciplined and behaving better toward each other than most humans. I asked him for some winter-specific advice on doggy manners. He said good dog behavior starts with good dog owner behavior, especially when it comes to pottying.
“I always recommend that owners go out with their dogs in the winter. That’s the best way to judge their health and make sure they’re processing like they should,” Curtis said. “You feed them, then take them out to make sure they go number one and number two.”
Curtis says its also important for dogs to get regular exercise, no matter their breed or size. Not only does it help them associate the outdoors with going potty, it’s also important for maintaining good overall health in the winter. He said some short-haired dogs like German short-haired pointers and weimaraners can really react to the cold. Just use good judgement. If it’s below zero, don’t stay out too long.
If you do need to outfit your dog for some serious winter trekking, Johnson recommends products from local Southwest business www.stuntpuppy.com. They have winter dog booties, lighted collars, squishy bowls and other accessories for pampering your pooch in the frozen tundra.
Oh, and just in case you're going to throw some cookies in the oven while you run the dogs out, Johnson says go ahead and spray a little of that non-stick cooking spray on your their paws. No, seriously. It will moisturize and protect their pads from ice melt products and it’s okay for them to lick it. Plus you won’t need a spatula to get them off the sidewalk. If you’d rather use a product made just for dogs, Curtis recommends “Musher’s Secret,” a beeswax and lanolin paw protector.
Next, I stopped in for a visit with Bonnie Kane, owner of Royal Pet Grooming at Lake and Lyndale. She’s been grooming pets for 30 years. Kane also says moisturize, moisturize moisturize. She said in addition to keeping dogs’ pads protected, their skin needs winter pampering too. She recommends a fish oil supplement or drizzling a little olive oil on their food to nurture the coat. I asked her about winter grooming, and she said more hair doesn’t necessarily mean more warmth.
“Some owners think a longer coat is better in the winter, but many dogs mat, and when that happens it blocks air circulation to the skin,” Kane said. “If they have too many mats it’s like wearing too many sweaters. They can get hot. You can use people or pet detangler to deal with mats, or just make sure they stay brushed and trimmed,” Kane said.
Kane also said the winter months and dry weather may stir up more allergies in dogs, since they’re cooped up inside for longer periods of time—another reason to keep their coats healthy. She recommends using a humidifier if your dog is super sensitive to dryness.
And what about those cute little doggy jackets? Kane said yes they help keep dogs warm, but they can also produce a lot of friction and static electricity, which can lead to mats and tangles. There goes the cute little furry pink Zsa Zsa Gabor number Daisy got in her stocking.
Next, I set out to find a veterinarian for some winter diet tips. (Dog diet tips. I didn't feel comfortable asking a vet what she would suggest for me). I got ahold of Cathy Sinning, co-owner of Lake Harriet Veterinary. Like Bonnie Kane, she mentioned adding an omega-3 fatty acid supplement like fish oil to your dog’s diet. She said dogs need that extra fat in the cold stretch. At the same time, she said most dogs need their rations cut back a bit in the winter time so they don’t put on too much weight.
“It’s not unusual to see a dog for a summer or fall check up, and then they come back for the spring heartworm test and they’re heavier,” Sinning said. “That’s where we see the biggest weight gain—during those winter months.”
I have friends whose dogs have dined on some weird things, like sponges, entire birthday cakes and even $140 dollars in cash sitting on the kitchen counter. But Sinning said the big winter no-no with dogs is anti-freeze, whether it’s on the driveway, in the garage or elsewhere. Dogs like the taste of it. She said owners should be vigilant in the winter and make sure their dogs are not exposed to it. Anti-freeze is highly toxic, and can be fatal if ingested. Sinning said some dogs can recover if they get emergency care quickly enough, depending on how much was consumed.
Sinning also said hydration is very important for dogs in the winter. While some dogs like to snack on the snow, it can bring their body temperature down, and affect their digestion. She also said some dogs may generally drink less in the winter, so adding a little H20 to their food can be beneficial.
I feel better now that I've gotten some good pointers from these folks. Now, if I could just get Daisy officially potty trained. I guess there is one advantage to training a puppy in the winter: Cold weather cleanup is way better than warm summer cleanup. I also really like that my daily newspaper comes in that handy orange plastic bag. I think the paper subscription is actually cheaper than buying the equivalent amount of doggie waste bags at the pet supply store.