A combination of cold weather, grit, salt and snow or ice can make the pads cracked and sore. After a winter walk let any snow or ice melt naturally, then wipe the feet with a damp cloth to remove any salt residue. Licking salt or grit can be very harmful and may cause excessive thirst, salivation and/or burns to the mouth or throat. Keeping the nails trimmed and ensuring any long fur between the toes is clipped to a suitable level will help, and if you aren’t sure how to carry out these procedures, your vet or groomer will be able to show you how to do them properly. You can buy special balms to “feed” the pads, and a good diet feeds them from the inside too.
Cold weather hazards include anti-freeze and de-icers. Anti-freeze contains a highly toxic chemical called ethylene glycol, which is very poisonous to dogs (and cats). If you suspect your pet may have been in contact with these substances or they are showing any warning signs or symptoms (vomiting, seizures, lethargy and/or very rapid breathing) it’s important to seek immediate veterinary attention.
Spring is just around the corner, and this is typically time for a spring-clean! It may be too cold for a bath just yet, but why not make this the month to ensure your dog’s teeth and gums are clean and healthy. There are lots of special brushes and pastes available for dogs (never use human toothpaste); and for those dogs who don’t tolerate brushing, why not treat him to a special dental toy.
One of the best ways to promote healthy skin and encourage coat growth is to increase the grooming time. Some owners are reluctant to brush dogs withscurf and / or loose hair for fear of making the problem worse. However, thishair and skin is dead; and if left, will begin to clog up the pores. Removing it will help to stimulate the natural oils and create a nice healthy base for new growth. An individual hair takes between six and eight weeks to grow. Once mature, the hair enters a resting phase and remains dormant for weeks or even months before being shed to make room for a new hair. A rubber massage brush is often ideal for scurfy dogs providing it is suitable for your dog’s coat type. Some breeds of course require specialist grooming or clipping.
In the event of a heavy moult, most breeds will benefit from several grooming sessions per day for three to five days or so to ensure everything that needs to be shed has been removed. After this, the skin and coatshould be fed from the outside with a mild emollient shampoo and conditioner. There are plenty of natural products on the market with conditioning properties. We obviously don’t want to wash our dogs too frequently as it strips the natural coat oils, but a good bath two or three times a year (more if required) is sensible.
A weight check is always sensible. Knowing your dog’s healthy weight can help your vet to establish the severity of a problem if your dog ever were to become overweight or underweight. In the summer especially it is important to keep your dog trim because obese dogs are more vulnerable to heat stroke. Dogs with a larger appetite or those who need to slim down may benefit from a change to a lower calorie diet if reducing their food leaves them feeling overly hungry.
During the summer us humans often enjoy cooking outdoors on an open fire or barbeque. This is great fun but can pose a risk to your dogs if they are able to access any cooked bones, raw pork products or are too close to the heat source and in danger of being burned. Enjoy your al fresco dining, but make sure dogs are very closely supervised around food and fire.
Sun screen is almost always on our shopping list for us, but have you considered the risk of UV light to dogs too? White dogs are especially at risk (particularly ears and noses) so make sure your dog is not lying out in the direct sunlight for too long, and consider buying him some special dog-safe sun cream as well.
At this time of year it is a good idea to keep a close watch on your dog’s ears. Long ear flaps and dogs with very hairy ears can be more susceptible to mites, foreign bodies such as grass sides (common in late summer / early autumn) and secondary yeast or bacterial infections can develop if problems are undetected and not treated.
If your dog is afraid of fireworks, then it is now time to start making early preparations ready for Guy Fawkes, Christmas and New Year celebrations. Many owners find that Thunder Coats and desensitising CDs are very helpful. Other dogs may require sedatives from the vet. Natural remedies such as a little lavender oil (to apply to the dog’s bed) can be useful too, so make sure you are stocked up with everything you need to minimise your dog’s anxiety if necessary.
The most crucial factor when selecting a pet food is to remember that all dogs are individuals. Each has his or her own unique genetic build, digestion and rate of metabolism. Taking these into account as well as variants such as breed size, weight, activity level and temperament mean that what may be the perfect diet for one, may not be ideal for another. This is why sometimes trial and error are necessary in order to establish what diet is truly optimal for your own pet.
Christmas is a time for celebration, but bear in mind there are a lot of hazards for dogs at this time of year. These include decorations, candles, plants, chocolate, fat-rich foods and ribbons used for wrapping presents. By all means buy your dog to some presents but choose toys or healthy treats and do make sure anything he shouldn’t be eating is kept well out of harm’s way.