Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Frost Bite And Hypothermia

The other day I met dog who was presenting with a slight limp.  He was licking his paw, and the owner suspected injury.  Upon examination by a vet, it was determined he had frost bite.  His owner, a good owner, seemed surprised, and took away a valuable lesson regarding our dogs and winter.

I think it's easy to assume most dogs are resilient to most weather.  We revere them as descendants of wolves, who live their entire lives outside.  And sure, some dogs are tough cookies.  The reality is, is that we have domesticated dogs, and we have to avoid thinking of them as wild animals who can adapt to all weather challenges.

I highly doubt small breed owners skip considering the heat needs of their dogs.  We see them in sweaters, being carried over inches of snow, and we witness a lot of consideration regarding how frail they my or may not be.  I think large breed owners may not spend enough time considering that while their paws are unlike our bare feet, they are still bare feet.. and extreme weather can cause harm.

Hypothermia is  real risk for owners who leave their dogs outside in the winter cold for too long.  They need shelter and  warm place, regardless of breed.  As Pyr owners, we know our Pyrs love the snow and can spend ages playing outside.  If left to their own devices, as dogs who are bred to live in cold conditions are, our Pyrs would likely dig a whole and find ways to stay warm.  A short haired breed may find those same holes to dig, but it doesn't mean they are okay.  We have to think long and hard on where our breeds originated from, and their weather tolerance therein.

It is not okay to leave your dog out in the cold all night without shelter.  Some dogs are used as working dogs, guarding livestock, etc. and they are better equipped to manage how they cope.  "Family" dogs are different.. they need family and warmth and shouldn't be left outside if they don't have a working dog's job to do.

I think all dog owners should have a thermometer.  Dogs are hotter than us.. their normal temp is 99.5-102.5.  I also feel like dogs running around in your back yard are afforded the ability to let you know when they've had enough, assuming they romp around and then bark or scratch to come back in.  I think when we put our pets at risk is when we take them on long walks without considering what long term exposure to temperatures do to their paws.  I think we need to look for their signs: when they act like they don't want to walk anymore, when they start to sit or lay down.. these are also things dogs do when walking on too-hot pavement.  Do the reasonable thing: reach down and feel the ground.  Is it steaming hot?  Is it frigid cold?  My Pyrs can play for ages in my back yard, but they are also afforded the ability to jump onto the deck and give their paws a break. 

Dogs are sturdy creatures on the whole, but how exposed are their paws?  Do they live their days on warm, soft carpeting, or are they always out on trails with you, causing their paws to harden to conditions?  Every dog is different.  Talk to your vet before taking your dog on long hikes in the snow this season.  Ask them what they feel is a fair amount of time on the snowy ground without  a break. If you have a dog who is outside a lot, bring them in when the temperatures get too cold.  Realize that short-haired breeds are less tolerant of the snow, and invite them into your warm home.  Dogs are not wild animals, and we read too many unfortunate stories in the summer and winter months regarding owners who do not take their needs into account.

If you believe your dog to be suffering from hypothermia, take it to a vet immediately.  Do not attempt to warm up your dog yourself, short of wrapping them in a blanket.  There are very effective ways to warm a body correctly, and warming up a body too fast can be very detrimental.  If you are unsure, call your vet first and explain to them the situation.  No one is going to jump to the conclusion you are a bad dog owner; some dogs escape and run away, and we find them in need of medical care.  Perhaps you thought you let your dog in before you left, but you didn't.  Perhaps you overestimated what you perceived their cold tolerance to be.  If your dog is acting differently after long exposure to weather, they may need some attention.

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