Beardie, It’s Cold Outside

Written by: Maryann Szalka


If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that experiences a warm or mild winter, you probably don’t need to read any further. However, if your socks and floors are wet from the dogs tracking in snow, I recommend you continue reading. Our Beardies may be covered in fur, but they are still exposed to the harsh conditions of winter. It’s January, and that means two more months of winter and a perfect time to pass along some cold weather safety tips for you and your Beardies. Cold weather, ice and snow can bring a wide variety of concerns for a responsible dog owner. To assure your Beardie stays healthy and safe through the long winter months, follow the guidelines listed below:

  • Groom your Beardie on a regular basis. A coat that is well maintained provides the appropriate insulation. If your dog is matted, the coat cannot insulate your dog as it should. (Imagine if the insulation in your attic was all bunched up in one place, it wouldn’t be as effective as if it were spread out evenly, would it?). Keep the hair between your dog’s toes and pads clipped short, even with the bottom of the foot. When hair is left too long, snow sticks to it, forming ice balls that are uncomfortable and hard to remove. Long hair between the pads also reduces traction, making it easier for your dog to slip and hurt himself on the ice. Good nail care is important, too. Nails that are too long also reduce traction, since they force the dog to walk on the backs of his feet, splaying his toes. The greater the space between his toes, the more snow will pack up between them. Baby oil, or petroleum jelly, rubbed on and between the pads helps keep pads pliable and eliminate ice build-up when snow and slush cover the ground, streets, and sidewalks. Once inside, make sure you remove the snow packed between those hairy Beardie toes. To speed up the defrosting process, I find it helpful to fill the tub with about four inches of warm water and then put the dog in.
  • Be aware of chemicals. Salt and other products used to melt ice and snow can irritate those Beardie paws. Depending on the product, your dog could experience chemical burns. There is also a tendency for dogs to lick their paws, which could cause an inflammation of the digestive tract. Be mindful of where your dog walks; you may not use chemicals, but your neighbors, merchants, and other businesses may. When you bring your dog inside, wipe all four feet thoroughly and check for any tears or abrasions to the foot pads. Antifreeze that leaks onto driveways and streets smells and tastes good to dogs; however, it is highly poisonous and can be lethal if ingested. One-half teaspoon of anti-freeze per pound of dog body weight is enough to cause the clinical signs of poisoning. The poison attacks the nervous system and the kidneys; the symptoms are depression, lack of coordination, vomiting and diarrhea, increased thirst, and seizures. The toxin is rapidly absorbed; symptoms can begin within an hour of exposure. The toxic ingredient in most anti-freeze is ethylene glycol. If you suspect your dog has ingested anti-freeze, call your veterinarian immediately. There is an antidote available, but time is of the essence; the poison can be fatal if the kidneys are damaged. Antizol-vet is available as a prescription drug to be given intravenously if anti-freeze poisoning is suspected or confirmed. There is a new anti-freeze on the market made from propylene glycol that appears to be safer. However, propylene glycol is also toxic; although it does not attack the kidneys, it does affect the nervous system and may cause lack of coordination and seizures.
  • Limit time spent outdoors in extremely cold temperatures. Prolonged exposure to the cold can also cause frostbite (the death of tissue in the extremities). Beardie toes, tails, ear tips and scrotum are the most commonly frostbitten areas. Pay attention to wind chill factors. Frostbitten tissue appears pale and is cold to the touch. It should be warmed slowly and given time to heal. It may turn red and swollen and be very painful as it heals. Hypothermia is a lowering of the core body temperature well below the dog’s normal 101.5-102.5 normal rectal temperature. Substantial lowering of the temperature interferes with the metabolic functions of the body and affects the internal organs. A dog’s first (natural) reaction to the lowering of his temperature is to shiver. Shivering increases muscle activity, which in turn increases heat production. At the same time, his blood circulation shifts away from his legs and feet to his internal organs. If your Beardies are anything like mine, they probably don’t like to come inside if they are having fun. But if you feel it’s too cold for you to stay outside, it’s probably too cold for your dogs to stay out as well.
  • Be sure your dog has plenty of fresh water to drink. Dogs can get dehydrated in the winter.Dogs, like people, lose moisture through breathing and the effects of cold temperatures are magnified by dehydration.Beardies love to play in the snow and after some vigorous exercise they will undoubtedly be thirsty. Snow is not an efficient alternative to fresh water and eating snow may cause gastric distress, so be sure to give your dogs water to drink after outdoor exercise.
  • Provide appropriate nutrition. Dogs that are actually working or playing outdoors need extra energy to regulate body temperature and ward off the cold. More calories are used to keep warm, and exercise such as running through the snow can be strenuous. Keep in mind Beardie couch potatoes may get less exercise in the winter months, and will need fewer calories to avoid weight gain.
  • Provide proper supervision. If your Beardie is a puppy, a geriatric dog, or one with health issues; please don’t leave him outside without supervision (especially in the snow). Be careful when escorting your arthritic pets outside. They will become stiff quickly and may find it difficult to move about in the ice and snow. Dog feet can get very cold very fast, and you may have to rescue a shivering Beardie who cannot or will not walk.
  • May I see some ID please? Did you know more dogs get lost in winter than any other season? Dogs frequently lose their scent in winter conditions (especially a snowstorm) and can easily get confused as to where they are. This is another reason to make sure your dog always has proper identification.
  • You probably don’t need to be reminded, but… Use caution around frozen ponds, lakes and creeks. If your dog jumps or slips in frigid water his body temperature will drop quickly resulting in hypothermia. Woodstoves, fireplaces and portable heaters can cause severe burns or start a house fire. One swish of a Beardie tail can lead to disaster! Dogs don’t catch colds, so if you notice your Beardie is coughing, sneezing or has a runny nose, the culprit may be low humidity in your home. The same holds true for itching and dry skin. Low humidity levels are common during the winter, and may be the cause of dehydration and irritations to skin and mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and throat. A healthy pet will tolerate winter stress much better than an unhealthy one, so talk to your veterinarian about any concerns you may have.

The following items are available to help you winterize your Beardie:

Musher’s Secret™ acts like an invisible boot. It is an extremely dense, wax-based, invisible barrier cream to protect paws. Musher’s Secret™ forms a breathable bond that remains very tenacious even when the temperature is extremely cold. Apply a thin coat to pads and between the toes to protect from salt and chemicals and prevent icy snowballs from forming between the toes. It is very safe to use, does not stain, is non-toxic and non-allergenic. It allows perspiration to escape through toes, while preventing potential problems such as blisters, cracking and abrasions. A slightly more affordable option is Shaw’s Paw Wax™. Bag Balm™ does wonders for dry and cracked foot pads.

Every Beardie should own a set of boots, but not all boots are created equal. Depending on where you live (and walk your dog), you may want to consider purchasing a pair of boots with rubber soles. There have been several reported incidents of dogs getting shocked by live wires buried in the damp ground. Factors such as snow, salt, the dog’s wet paws and exposed wires are a dangerous combination. Boots with rubber soles, such as NeoPaws™, provide protection from electric shocks and improve traction. If your main concern is dry paws, then water proof boots may work best for you and your dog.

Doggie sweaters and coats are not just a silly accessory; some dogs really need to wear them. Shaved down Beardies, older dogs, puppies, sick dogs, or dogs with a thinning may be good candidates for outerwear. To be effective against the cold, a coat or sweater should completely cover a dog’s belly, keep his legs free for easy movement, and fit snugly and end at the base of the tail. Coats should be waterproof to provide maximum protection.

Stay safe and warm, and remember, only two more months until mud spring!