My dog has the winter time blues...

If you have a Bernese Mountain Dog, Malamute, or St Bernard, this is the weather that your dog has been waiting for. It is great to see these northern breed dogs having a fun in the frosty outdoors. However, not every dog has a two inch thick coat, so many pets turn into couch potatoes this time of year. Here is how I keep my warm weather dog out of the cold.

More indoor exercise: We are happy the days are getting longer. Sometimes, a career that requires full days can interfere with my dog walking plans. The cool morning temperatures are a caution for my chronic lung disease, and I have not been getting home until it is dark.

In attempt to try to prevent slip and fall accidents outside, I have been exercising the dog inside. She walks on the dog treadmill, and practices tricks for treats. A very small dog may be taught to use a treadmill designed for people, but a medium to large dog requires a specialized extra long treadmill for a proper stride. Toto Fit toys may be purchased online without a prescription, and are much easier for a dog to use than a stability ball that was designed for people. If you don't have the room or the interest in having a dog gym at home, you may schedule an exercise session with one of the Veterinary Assistants at Total Pet Hospital.

Be especially careful for the first nice day after some snowy and frosty days. Pent-up excitement can result in a slip and fall leg fracture when a dog runs on melting ice. One sunny winter morning at work I was greeted by three dogs who had just broken their legs on melting ice!

Clothing optional: I was amazed to see that my dog removed her sweater faster than I could dress her. Her fur is short, but she does not mind the cold as long as she is in

motion and does not get wet. So, even though I felt she would benefit from a garment, she told me she did not need it. In contrast, another tiny terrier that I had used to wear his sweater in the house to prevent shivering. Wearing a sweater or not is an individual choice.

Although sweaters are the cutest, they are the most challenging kind of outerwear for your dog. If you are interested in buying a coat, the best ones have velcro that closes over your dog's spine. A back closing garment may seem as odd as a hospital gown, but dog legs are designed for greatest movement forward to back. Trying to bend or stretch your dog's legs to the side to wiggle into a sweater may not be comfortable.

Velcro closing dog boots are a nice way to protect your pet's feet from road salts. I

trained my Akita to wear them by first asking if he wanted to go for a walk (yes, of course!), then having him stand stay while I put his feet into the boots. He quickly learned that no boots meant no walk, so he cooperated.

The first time a dog wears boots, he usually will at first stand frozen like his feet are cemented to the ground. Next, there may be some high stepping and foot shaking in attempt to remove the boots. However, once you get in motion, the pet will forget he is wearing the boots. This is similar to when we are wearing a hat or glasses, and then just forget about the accessory after a while.

Another used for velcro boots is to cover an injured foot. I have sent home patients with a bandaged paw and instructions to protect the paw with a boot when outside. After the walk, remember to remove the boots. This will prevent your dog from chewing the boots.

If you are not interested in dog boots, rinsing your pet's feet after a walk can remove toxins, parasite eggs, and pollen that may cause contact allergies. A 2 cup tumbler half filled with warm water can act as a one foot at a time dip; the hose from a shower stall can be quick and effective for rinsing feet of large breed dogs.

Beware of winter weight gain: People usually give me more food in the winter, and my dog may be looking for her share. An easy answer to weight gain caused by a combination of more treats and less exercise is to just put less food in the dog bowl.

Measuring your dog's food with a measuring cup, and not leaving food in the bowl at all times will help get the pounds under control. Bringing the dog for a weigh in every 2-4 weeks, and having the Veterinary Assistants record the weight in your dog's file will help to keep the family focused on the goal.

Here is a method that I found may work for the dog who is in the habit of getting treats, but is watching her weight. I gradually introduced a good tasting complete diet that looks like a dog cookie (Hills t/d). I measure a cup of these, and place them on the counter. When my husband goes into the kitchen and the dog asks for a treat, she gets one piece of Hills t/d from the counter top. If I notice that she does not finish the allotted amount of Hills t/d, I will put 1/2 cup of a good quality dog food that does not taste as yummy in her bowl at night. If she has eaten all of the Hills t/d from the counter and she is dieting, I do not put a food bowl out at night.

Some people feel that food must be available at all times, but this may be too much temptation for a pet who is watching her weight.

How do you cope with cold northern winters as a dog mom or dad? We are all on this journey together learning how to improve the life of pets. I hope you found a suggestion here to help you to live your best life.

Maureen Kubisz, DVM, CVA

Total Pet Hospital LLC

1100 US Highway 9

Howell, NJ 07731

(732) 780-4499

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