Nobody celebrates winter’s fresh powder like a dog in Tahoe. Bounding through snowdrifts and ripping through fields of white bring dogs a joy that’s contagious. But beneath all the fun, danger does exist. Safety protocols must be followed in the winter months to keep that smile on your dog’s face and those paws healthy for future snowy romps. If you’re one of the many people that go everywhere with their canine at their heels, consider these winter safety tips from India Vannini, chief medical officer at Donner Truckee Veterinary Hospital.
Avoid the Edge
One of the most common winter emergencies for dogs is lacerations from skis and snowboards. As backcountry skiing grows in popularity, backcountry safety must extend to your pup. Train your dog to avoid poles, obstacles, skis, and snowboards. “I always recommend that people make sure they go through all the proper training with their dog,” said Vannini. “Ski edges are just like little saws. It’s like a knife going fast.”
Wayward dogs can also be triggers for avalanches, so if your dog tends to wander, it might be a good idea to leave it at home.
While powder is soft and forgiving, when the snow finally settles and the weather is just right, snow can turn to ice, which can easily cause your dog’s paws to tear. Check the conditions of the snow on the trail you’re heading out on, or carry dog boots in your pack just in case. If you’ll be out for an extended period, boots are great at preventing frostbite. If your dog just isn’t having the dog booties, try applying paw wax as a protective coating.
Many ice melts that prevent slipping around doorways and stairs are made of rock salt, which can irritate or cause lacerations to your pet’s paws. Some pet-safe alternatives work to de-ice walkways while saving your pet’s paw pads. However, Vannini notes that dogs will often lick their paws after walking on snowmelt, and even pet-safe alternatives can lead to gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and vomiting. She recommends rinsing off dogs’ paws after coming inside to prevent ingesting harmful chemicals.
or Not Too Deep?
If your pup runs off into the forest, ensure it is still well within your sight. It’s very common for dogs to jump in or accidentally fall into tree wells and get stuck. They can be hard to reach or difficult to find.
While they’re traipsing off into the wilderness, where the snow is often deeper, post-holing can occur and cause orthopedic injuries like CCL (the dog version of human ACL) tears. “They’ll sort of jump in and their leg will sink down and they’ll tear their CCL,” said Vannini.
Be sure you’re aware of snow depth and conditions before taking your dog out on a trail. Keep your dog in your sight; if it isn’t great with recall, it might be safer to leash it up.
Go With Goggles
“One thing people don’t think about, especially those who come up from the Bay Area, is snow blindness,” said Vannini. Snow blindness, or photokeratitis, is a condition that occurs when eyes are exposed to excessive UV light. Symptoms include puffy, red, and watery eyes. Tahoe’s dogs are exposed to bright white landscapes every time they venture outside on a winter’s day. This is particularly concerning for breeds with light eye colors such as huskies.
According to Vannini, they can suffer painful temporary blindness that can be treated with medication. “Dogs will squint their eyes and it’s super painful. It resolves, but it’s better to avoid it,” she said. She recommends outfitting light-eyed dogs with a pair of doggy goggles.
Doggy Spa Day
“We also see excessive dry skin, more than usual because our dogs are by fireplaces or just in the home with the heat on,” said Vannini. Regular grooming and moisturizing treatments in a doggy spa day can help to alleviate painful dry skin. Vannini emphasized that dryness can also contribute to torn nails, which are painful and often require veterinary care.
A less obvious but deadly winter hazard is antifreeze poisoning. Dogs have been known to ingest antifreeze from puddles and even toilets in homes where it’s used to prevent pipe freezing. This can be highly toxic and immediate veterinary attention is required in case of ingestion. If you have a dog in the house, don’t dump antifreeze in the toilets. Watch for puddles in streets during walks and don’t let your dog drink from them. “Be careful of your dog drinking any puddle of water that doesn’t look frozen when it’s supposed to be,” Vannini said.
While we’re all bundled up in fleece and down on our winter outings, it can be hard to gauge just how cold it is. Some dogs need an extra layer to keep from becoming hypothermic. If your dog is small, has a thin coat, is elderly, or has short legs that don’t keep its belly hair out of the snow, it may need a winter coat. It should be loose enough that the dog can still run and play while also being somewhat snug. Make sure it’s breathable to prevent overheating.
Don’t forget to use common sense this winter — if you’re questioning the conditions, then play it safe by leaving your dog in the comfort and safety of its home. If it’s icy and you’re in a crowded area or on the sidewalk, use a leash to avoid snowplows, sliding cars, and snowmobiles. As dog parents, it’s our responsibility to keep our pups’ love of winter alive.