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Keeping Your Dog Safe

Read how to keep your dog safe and healthy during the extremes of winter and summer weather.

Keeping Your Dog Safe

It's important to consider the weather—especially the temperature—when exercising your dog. One dog's beautiful day is another dog's climatic nightmare. Consider your dog's size, the thickness and length of her coat, and how accustomed she is to heat or cold when deciding whether she should be out, or for how long, on hot or cold days. No matter what her breed, guard her from extremes of weather as well as from other hazards that accompany our changing seasons.

Warm Weather Safety

Spring and summer give us lots of opportunities to play outdoors with our dogs, but there are some hazards associated with warm, sunny days.


Heatstroke can kill your dog or cause him permanent brain damage. Don't exercise him during the heat of the day, and always watch for symptoms of overheating during warm weather.

The dangers of overheating are very real for your dog in warm weather. Your dog can't cool his body as well as you can, and if his body temperature remains above normal for very long, he can die of heatstroke. Try to exercise your dog early in the morning or in the evening rather than during the heat of the day. Be extra cautious when the humidity is high—it makes it harder for your dog to cool off. If you plan to have him out in the heat for more than 20 minutes, carry cool water for both of you and offer it about every 20 minutes. Lightweight portable water dishes are available for carrying on walks. Try to walk in the shade, and watch for signs of overheating. If necessary, stop and rest in a shady spot and let your dog cool off a bit before heading home.

Besides the heat, spring and summer bring a few other dangers for dogs. Here are a few more tips for keeping your best friend safe during those hazy, crazy days:

  • Risk of exposure to rabies, distemper, parvovirus, Lyme disease, and other infectious diseases increases in warm weather. Be sure your dog is protected.
  • Mosquitoes are out and spreading heartworm in some parts of the country. If you live (or travel) in a heartworm area, have your dog tested for heartworm once a year, and protect him with heartworm preventative.
  • Spiders, bees, wasps, and other insects also bite and sting dogs. If your dog has a reaction to a bite or sting, or is bitten or stung several times, see a veterinarian immediately (see Choosing a Veterinarian).
  • More bugs! Warm weather also brings out the fleas and ticks. Check your dog frequently for the little pests, and if you find any, take appropriate action.
  • Poisons are within easy reach in warm weather—insecticides, weed killers, mouse and rat poisons, fertilizers, and poisonous plants all pose dangers to your dog. Even if you don't use them, chances are some of your neighbors do. If you think your dog has walked through grass treated with chemicals, wash his feet with soap and warm water when you get home. If you think he's ingested a poison, get him to a vet.
  • Care for your dog's feet. Hot surfaces will burn him just as quickly as they'll burn you. Don't keep your dog on hot concrete, asphalt, or sand for any length of time, or if you must, put booties on him for protection.
  • Swimming is great fun, but keep your dog safe. Even good swimmers can drown (see Dogs and Swimming).

Cold Weather Safety

Colder weather poses its own dangers. Many dogs enjoy romping in the snow and are invigorated by chilly weather. Others—particularly small dogs and dogs with very short coats—would just as soon stay indoors when Jack Frost shows up. Be sensible about what you ask—or allow—your dog to do when the thermometer drops. Let's look at some of the hazards and how to manage them:

  • Your dog's feet, ears, and, depending on his size and coat, other body parts are susceptible to frostbite. Frostbite occurs when a part of the body freezes. If not treated immediately, frostbitten areas die and may fall off or have to be amputated. Frostbitten skin is pale and cool to the touch. It may look burned after thawing. If you think your dog has frostbite, warm the affected body parts slowly and get him to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
  • Jagged ice, frozen plant stems, and sidewalk salt are common in yards and on walkways in winter. They're sharp and can cut your dog's foot pads. Snow can also collect on the hair between the pads, sometimes forming icy balls that can cause pain and injury to the foot. Trimming the long hair from the bottoms of the feet may help prevent problems with snowballs. Always check your dog's feet after he's been out in snow. If you go for walks in the snow, check your dog's feet frequently, or consider getting him some booties to protect his feet in bad weather.
  • Icy surfaces, especially stairs and steps, are as dangerous for your dog as they are for you. Dogs with arthritis or other problems that limit their mobility are particularly in danger of falling on slippery surfaces. Try to provide an ice-free path from your door to your dog's potty area to prevent injury.
  • Salt and other chemicals used to melt ice from streets and sidewalks can irritate your dog's paws. They are also toxic if ingested. If such chemicals are used where you walk, wash your dog's paws when you get home, or have him wear booties for walks. Consider using a nontoxic ice melter on your own walks.
  • Pools, ponds, and other bodies of water present special risks in cold weather. Swimming in very cold water on cold days can cause hypothermia, or dangerous chilling of the body. Only very fit dogs that are built for and conditioned to cold-weather swimming should be in the water. Once the water freezes over, thin ice can be extremely hazardous. Do not allow your dog (or anyone else) to run on the icy surface of frozen water unless you know for certain that the ice is solid all the way across. If your dog falls through, he may not be able to find the hole again, or if he does, he may not be able to climb out. He could drown.
  • If you walk or hike near snowmobile trails in winter, keep your dog on leash and off the trails. Snowmobiles can kill dogs.

Outdoor Dogs

I'm not a fan of keeping dogs outdoors, especially alone. Dogs are social animals and need companionship. They're intelligent animals and need mental stimulation. They're athletic animals and need physical exercise. A few breeds do fine living outdoors, as long as their social, mental, and physical needs are satisfied, but most dogs do much better indoors with their human families. Some dogs simply can't make it outdoors—or they may “survive,” but they live miserably.

Before you decide to have an outdoor dog, be sure that you will be able to give him daily attention. That doesn't mean just tossing him some food and water. It means spending time with him playing or working, seeing that he gets proper exercise, and checking his physical condition. It also means providing him with decent living conditions. What are decent living conditions for an outdoor dog?

  • Your dog needs proper shelter in all seasons. In warm weather, he needs well-ventilated shade. In winter, he needs a properly insulated doghouse that's the right size for him. A doghouse should be large enough for the dog to lie down comfortably. A house that's too big won't keep your dog warm, and in severe weather could expose him to hypothermia and frostbite. He needs clean bedding in his shelter year round.
  • Dogs need clean, fresh water year round. In summer, the water should be freshened at least twice a day, and the water bowl must be cleaned frequently to prevent algae. In winter, your dog needs water, not ice, at all times. Avoid metal bowls in winter (they get too cold and freeze quickly) and avoid plastic or ceramic bowls (they crack when the water freezes). Use heated buckets or bowls with chew-safe cords designed for use with animals.
  • Your dog needs good-quality food in proper amounts. He needs to be fed regular meals, and food bowls should be picked up and washed after every meal. Food left out attracts rodents and insects, and can go bad. In cold weather, an outdoor dog will need a quarter to a third more food than he needs in warm weather in order to generate enough body heat.
  • An outdoor dog deserves a properly fenced area that will keep him safe from the dangers of wandering, from other animals, and from possible thieves or abusers. No dog deserves to live his life on a chain.

If your dog lives outdoors, he still needs all the routine care of an indoor dog—training, grooming, play, and outings that get him beyond the confines of his living space. He needs regular veterinary and home health care. Above all, he needs the love that he feels in your voice, your hands, and your eyes. Don't get a dog if he'll live alone and lonely out back.

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