Grooming Dogs in Cold Weather
Colder temperatures mean dog owners should change their grooming routine during winter months.
Virginia Parker Guidry
Winter's chill still has its hold on most of the country, bringing with it special grooming concerns for dog owners. For example, should you bathe your dog when temperatures are low? How can you handle those muddy paws? Here are answers to those questions and a few more.
Is it safe to bathe my dog in winter?
Yes, it's all right to bathe your dog in the wintertime. In fact, dogs sometimes need more grooming then. Longer, fluffier coats tend to mat, and walks through mud and snow are messy. If your dog is indoors to keep warm, you may be especially eager to bathe him to keep "doggie" odor to a minimum.
The dog must be completely dry before going outside, because a wet dog is more likely to become chilled. This is especially true of small breeds or those with short hair. Prolonged exposure to cold results in a drop in body temperature, or hypothermia, and it is most likely to occur when a dog is wet.
Avoid problems by giving the bath, say, after breakfast and the morning nature break. Bathe as usual, towel dry thoroughly, and keep the dog inside until completely dry. If you normally allow your dog to air dry, consider blow drying to speed the process.
Between baths, or if bathing with water is inconvenient, try dry cleaning. Sprinkle dry shampoo, available at pet supply stores, or a little cornstarch in the dog's coat and brush it through. Be sure to brush out the excess powder.
Should I avoid trimming my dog's coat?
Some owners believe giving a dog a haircut — even breeds requiring regular trimming, such as the Poodle, West Highland White Terrier or Schnauzer — during cold weather compromises the dog because it needs its coat to keep warm. While dogs need to keep warm, it's also true most pets don't live outdoors all the time; they're usually snuggled up with an owner in a centrally heated house. House dogs don't need to rely on long fur and a thick undercoat for warmth as wild animals or sled dogs do.
It is all right to give your dog a haircut in winter. If you're concerned about your dog's being cold on outings, consider a longer trim or a doggie sweater.
How often should I brush?
For untrimmed dogs, an extra-thick winter coat needs regular, perhaps daily brushing. Some dogs look their best in winter because the coat is so thick and luxurious, but it can mean more work for owners. Keep your dog's coat in top condition by brushing daily to remove tangles, dirt and dead hair, and to increase skin circulation and distribute oil.
A dog's winter coat can hide trouble, such as lumps, bumps or sores, which is another good reason to keep brushing regularly. As you brush, feel and look carefully for signs of illness. Call your veterinarian if you see anything suspect.
Since my dog is indoors, can I skip trimming his nails?
No. If your dog is indoors more frequently in the winter, the nails may need extra trimming because it's not outside running and romping to wear them down. Check weekly, and once you hear that "click-click" on the bare floor, you'll know it's time to trim.
How can I protect my dog's feet?
No doubt winter weather is tough on paws. You can minimize problems such as cracked pads, irritation, infections from snow, salt, mud, rain, low temperature, and gravel simply by wiping the feet dry after every outing. Keep a towel handy by the door, and make feet wiping routine.
Be especially watchful for snow or mud balls between the pads. Also, thorough wiping reduces but does not eliminate muddy paw prints in the house.
Another option is using a cloth or rubber booties. Some dogs accept these items gracefully; others try to chew them off.
What about fleas?
Most owners welcome cold weather because it signals the end of the flea season. However, fleas can still hang on for months in a warm pet bed or doghouse. Don't let your defense down just because it's winter, especially if you live in a mild climate. Keep up your flea-control program all year.
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