Cold Weather Care for Bird Dogs

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When winter sets in, it’s important to stay vigilant about keeping your dog safe in chilly conditions. Keep hunting, but be smart. 
 
Cold weather can harm a dog. Cold can negatively affect his or her immune system, increasing the chances for disease and injury. Use the following tips to help reduce the risks of:
 
Disease 
Hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature
Frostbite, the freezing of tissues caused by exposure to extremely low temperatures. 
 

DO Know Your Dog’s Limit

Pay attention to your dog’s tolerance of cold weather. Keep an especially close eye on puppies and senior dogs, as they cannot withstand wintry weather as well as a dog in his or her prime. A good rule of thumb for limiting outdoor exercise during winter is that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog.
 
However, just because the weather outside is frightful doesn’t mean your sporting dog should become a couch potato until spring. A dog that is bored becomes anxious and stressed. Regular conditioning and training, whether indoors or outdoors, will help relieve stress and keep him or her healthy and fit. 
 

DO Wear Weather-Appropriate Gear

When subzero temperatures prevail, consider wind chill and precipitation as well. Getting wet in frigid weather can be particularly dangerous for a dog, as a damp coat drains body heat.
 
When it comes to keeping a dog warmer and drier, any added protection is better than none. Dog vests and boots help shield a dog from the elements during a hunt or training session. 
 

DON’T Ignore the Signs of Frostbite & Hypothermia

A dog accidentally exposed to a long period of extreme cold could suffer frostbite, which occurs most frequently on the ears, tail, scrotum and feet. The signs of frostbite include flushed and reddened tissues, white or grayish tissues, evidence of shock, and scaly skin.
 
If your dog is suffering from frostbite, prompt veterinary treatment is essential. If this is not possible, warm the affected area rapidly by immersing the dog in warm water or using warm moist towels and changing them frequently. Never rub or massage frozen tissues.
 
As soon as the affected tissues become flushed, discontinue warming. Gently dry the affected tissues and lightly wrap with a clean, dry, non-adhering bandage. Protect your dog from further exposure to cold, as frostbitten tissues are more susceptible to repeated freezing.
 
Similarly, do not overlook the common signs of hypothermia, such as shivering, paleness, listlessness and frostbite. If a dog is suffering from hypothermia, bring the animal inside and stabilize it before transporting to the veterinarian. Dry off your dog if he or she is wet, then wrap the dog in a warm blanket or towel.
 

DO Beware of Antifreeze

Dogs are attracted to the sweet taste of ethylene glycol in antifreeze, but it is toxic. Be cautious, as a dog could lick a spill or radiator leak on garage floors, driveways and streets.
 
Signs of antifreeze poisoning usually occur within an hour of a dog licking antifreeze. These indications include incoordination, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive urination, seizures and elevated heart rate. If you suspect your dog has licked antifreeze, prompt veterinary treatment is essential.
 

DON’T Skate on Thin Ice

Avoid putting your dog’s life in jeopardy: Steer clear of frozen ponds, lakes, rivers, streams … any supposedly iced-over water body. You can’t be certain whether the ice will support your dog’s weight. If it doesn’t, the situation could be tragic.
 

DO Check Your Dog From Head to Tail

Check your dog’s footpads regularly after cold-weather outdoor exercise. Constant exposure to moisture caused by rain, snow, ice or mud can irritate a dog’s footpads, causing skin damage, cuts, and infection from bacteria or fungi. If a dog has cracked or bleeding paws, consult your veterinarian. 
 
After a heavy day of work involving a lot of tail action, you may also notice your dog’s tail hanging limply, as though broken. “Limber tail” can occur when a dog uses its tail excessively, such as after a day of hunting or training, especially when the dog has worked for a long period of time in cold and wet conditions. 
 
If your dog gets limber tail, rest is the best management, though nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage the condition. A dog usually will recover within a few days. 
 

DON’T Forget to Winterize Your Dog’s Kennel

Like you, your dog is ready to return to a warm home after a frigid day afield. If your dog sleeps in an outdoor doghouse or kennel, make sure it is insulated and heated. Position it off the ground with the door facing away from direct wind. Provide thick, dry bedding. Inside shelter, however, is vital when the temperatures really plummet.
 

CONCLUSION  

Bottom line: Use common sense to care for your dog in winter. Although you can't change the weather, you can be sure your dog is healthy, safe, comfortable … and happily finding birds for you.