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Caring for old dogs in the winter

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it’s important to think about the impact this has on our pets. Older dogs in particular need a little extra attention this time of year. What can we do to make sure they can spend wintertime happy and healthy?

Out and about 

It is much more difficult for older dogs to regulate their body temperature, so as it gets colder outside, do what you can to keep them nice and toasty. Particularly if you have a small dog, or a breed that typically has a lower body fat percentage (e.g. whippets and greyhounds), or with thinner fur, think about getting them a coat to wear when you head out for a walk. If they get wet, make sure you dry them off properly – wet fur can make them even colder. In extreme weather conditions, it’s sensible to keep your dog inside.

Any dog can be at risk of hypothermia (low body temperature). Normal body temperature for dogs is between 38-39.2⁰c. Common signs if it falls below this include: 

  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Pale mucous membranes (gums)
  • In severe cases collapse or loss of consciousness. 

If you are worried your dog might be affected, contact your vet immediately. 

With winter bringing shorter days, it’s far more likely to be out walking your dog in the dark. Older dog’s senses may not be as sharp as they were, so keep them close if they’re off-lead, and consider investing in an LED collar or reflective coat for them.

When it gets icy, there may be salt and grit out on roads and pavements. This can irritate dog’s paws, so be sure to clean them well after a walk. You can apply a layer of petroleum jelly to help protect them, and see a vet if you’re concerned about any damage.

At home 

Our homes can get cold in the winter too. Make sure you have created a nice cosy spot for your dog, including a soft comfy bed with extra blankets if needs be, and ensure they’re not lying on a cold floor.

Your dog may generally be less keen to go out and about in the winter months as they’re spending more time inside, so don’t forget that you also keep your dog active indoors by playing games with them. Use toys or food, depending on what they’re particularly driven by. You may need to adjust their food accordingly to make sure they maintain a healthy weight.

The cold can exacerbate some health conditions…

Many older dogs will suffer with arthritis – as many as 4 in 5 will be affected. Unfortunately, it is a condition that can be exacerbated by cold weather, so here’s a few things you can do. 

  • Wrap them up warm and keep them active, but do avoid walking them on icy surfaces
    • Consider going on shorter, more frequent walks instead of one long one
  • Consider starting joint supplements 🡪 look for ingredients like glucosamine, green-lipped muscle and omega-3. 
  • Orthopaedic pet beds are available to provide that extra bit of comfort for achy joints

If you think your pet needs extra help, do take them to see a vet – it may be that there is an underlying condition that needs addressing. By far the most common is arthritis, and in many cases it is warranted to start them on pain-relieving medications.

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