Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: When it comes to winter care, different dogs have different needs

GAIL FISHER December 28. 2013 1:02AM

What an odd season this seems to be. Christmas came so quickly I hardly had time to realize "'tis the season." The weather has gone from wintry to pouring rain, cold to warm and back again. But then it is New England, so this comes as no surprise.

Chinooks, as our puppy Larry is, are sled dogs, and Larry did seem to enjoy romping through his first significant snowfall a couple of weeks ago. Kochi, our rescue Shiba Inu mix, doesn't love snow, cold or even getting his feet wet. Maybe it's related to his early life as a street dog in Okinawa, Japan - a subtropical region with moderate rainfall. Kochi even avoids walking on damp grass if he can.

Having dogs with such different attitudes about weather - and likely genetic predispositions - means treating them differently. When it's cold, Kochi wears a winter coat designed like a horse blanket with fleece lining. When I'm ready to put it on him, he eagerly walks toward it when I show it to him. I also have booties for him, but they're more difficult to put on. And that brings me to the main topic of this column - winter care for our dogs.

When Cannon, our Bearded collie, went out into heavy, wet snow, it would pack into his long-haired feet and ankles. Cannon would come in from excursions in the snow wearing a mass of snowballs entangled in his long hair, encasing his lower extremities. The fastest way to remove these snowballs is to immerse the affected areas in warm water, or alternatively, brush and comb the snowballs out of his feet - something Cannon didn't love.

The other issue with medium- and long-haired dogs, unlike short-haired Larry and Kochi, is the hair that grows on the bottom of a dog's feet between the foot pads. Ice balls form in this hair between the pads, causing extreme discomfort. This hair needs to be clipped out with an electric clipper - not with a scissor. Cutting with a scissor can lead to a serious cut, which won't heal easily on the bottom of a dog's foot. So please don't even try to trim this hair yourself. A professional groomer or your veterinarian can easily shave the hair growing between the pads.

Speaking of your dog's feet, if you walk your dog on treated sidewalks and streets, it's important to protect your dog's feet. Not just painful, ice treatment chemicals can be absorbed through the skin or your dog might lick his feet - neither of which is healthy. If your dog isn't wearing boots, rinse and dry his feet when you get home. I haven't yet tried a commercial foot protection product called "Musher's Secret," but it seems good from what I've read about it.

For your own sidewalks and steps, use dog-friendly products such as "Safe Paw," which is what we use at All Dogs Gym for our walks. A home remedy I read about (but haven't tried myself) is to mix a teaspoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol in a half-gallon of warm or hot water and pour it on your steps. I've been told that it doesn't refreeze.

And finally, it's important to protect pets from wood stoves and other pet-level heat sources. Kochi, our Okinawa immigrant, lies very close to our gas fireplace. Having a glass front makes it less dangerous than a wood stove or open hearth. Even so, lying too close can be dangerous, especially if you have an open fire or wood stove. Safely screen anything dangerous to your dog just as you would to protect a toddler from getting too close to an open fire.

I hope you and your pets are having a very happy holiday season.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.

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