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The Ultimate Pet Parents Guide to Winter Care

Caring for your pet in the winter is a multi-pronged effort that will require some thought and preparation. Here are some tips from veterinarians to keep him happy, safe and comfortable until the buds of spring begin to bloom. Winter is a fabulous time of the year, but it can be challenging if there is a furry friend to look after. The cold weather and shorter days make dog walks and exercise quite a task. Just because our pooches have fur coats, it doesn’t mean they are not hit by cold. Winter nutrition, grooming and hydration are an important part of canine health. Also, pet parents need to pay attention to what the fur baby gets to eat.

Managing Nutrition

Experts like Dr S. P. Chaudhary says, “More than just a change of season, we must also look at managing a change in the dog’s daily diet. While we are aware that we must eat different vegetables and fruits in winter, we don’t seem to do the same for our pet dogs. Most pet parents are unaware of the significance of switching the dog’s nutritional regimen in winters. Just like humans, dogs can start to feel hungrier in the chilly season and they do need to put on some extra fat to combat the cold.”

Some dogs like to laze the winter away, therefore the empty carbs should be reduced and table scraps should be stopped. Focus needs to be on keeping the fur baby’s waist trim. If you can’t reduce or stop treats, look for healthier lowcalorie options instead. Don’t let food be lying around for him to eat as and when he pleases, but measure it up carefully to monitor daily calorie intake.

According to Dr Anisha Khajuria, “During winter our body has to withstand very low temperatures so, it’s very important to take a good quality and proper quantity of energy dense food. But one should keep in mind during winter there is limited walk and exercise, and it may lead to obesity. So, quality and quantity of food should be measured accordingly. Food like chicken, fish, lamb, eggs etc. may be offered which provides the required amount of fats in the food which help form adipose tissue.” Agrees Dr Davender Singh, “Dogs should be fed a nutritionally balanced diet throughout the year so that when winters arrive, their skin is already in the best of health. A diet especially rich in omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids will be of additional help for the maintenance of healthy skin during the winter season. Also make sure the dogs should drink plenty of water.”

Dr Aprajita Chakrobarty stresses, “As temperatures fall and winter sets in, owners are less inclined to exercise their dogs. So, less exercise means less calorie loss. However, continuing to feed the same amount of food will result in winter weight gain which is very unhealthy. Short daylight hours cause other changes in dogs’ metabolism. Shorter days signal to the dog’s brain that winter is coming. This sets off hormonal changes to slow metabolism and conserve calories. These changes also promote the deposition of fat in the body. This phenomenon occurs due to a genetic adaptation called thrifty genes. It prepares the dog for the harsh winters and allows for normal performance in harsh conditions. But for pet dogs staying indoors, this genetic adaptation is unhealthy. A decreased metabolism will mean that they gain weight if fed the same diet as other times of the year. Dogs protected from the harshness of winter need less food to compensate for this hormonal metabolic change.”

Hair Care

As Dr Seema Talokar, product manager with Vetina Healthcare says, “While some of our furry friends love to play in the cold, others may see the cold weather as difficult to handle. Taking a little extra time to train yourself for winter care of your pet will go a long way toward making winters more relaxed and pleasant for both of you! The most important thing to do in winter is watching the weather. You must know how cold is too cold for your pet. There are no hard and fast rules to decide the good time for going out for a walk. But always plan your trip ahead of time. Smaller breeds, seniors, pets with health situations, and young puppies require extra care while going for the walk. Keep the walk short and sweet!”

Dr Talokar adds, “Brush your dog’s hair coat on a regular basis using a soft hair brush. This will help to stimulate the hair follicle and natural oil glands in the skin or dead cells and matted hair. Removing the dead skin cells and loose hair from the coat will allow the skin a chance to repair itself naturally. Limit the number of baths because in winters the skin coat has a tendency to become dry and flaky. For this a good moisturizing shampoo can be used. Feeding your pet a healthy diet can help your dog enter into the winter months with a healthy skin and a nourished coat and can prevent it from skin complications. If your dog has sensitive skin then feeding a sensitive skin diet is very important.” The hair care routine will involve regularly brushing the fur and checking for dryness or scaled skin. It will also include dental cleaning, cleaning of ears, and nail trimming. Also remember, the middle of winter is not the perfect time to shave your pet’s fur.

Grooming is very important during the chilly times and should not be neglected. “It’s not that your pet is not dirty and you don’t need to brush and bathe. Brushing is not season dependent. We need to do this round the year. Hair loss is a common problem in pets in India and hair moulting is a regular process which happens during winter also. Pets shed their summer coat and a thick coat comes in winter. To maintain good health of the skin and to keep a check on conditions like mange, external parasites, allergies etc, one needs to visit a veterinarian during winter too,” explains Dr Anisha Khajuria.

Paw Health

Paws are another sensitive area of our pooches. “Protecting paws from cold is the best practice to make sure your pet’s winter walks are secure. Cold can dry out paws and this will make your pet chill faster. Wearing winter boots will protect the paws. The use of moisturizer after cleaning will control them from drying out. If your pet’s paws continue to crack and there is an open sore, having proper first aid care is necessary,” says Dr Seema Talokar.

So even when we take the fur balls for a walk, we have to take extra care.

a) Cleaning their paws after coming from walks and grooming them regularly. Trim any extra hair growing in the paws. Do not keep their paws wet. Try to dry them immediately with towels or with blowers.

b) Leaving them in the cold for a longer period of time may also lead to frostbite on the paws and also lead to hypothermia.

c) Moisturize their paws regularly to keep them soft and healthy. For this purpose, commercially available paw balm or vitamin E creams can be used,” says Dr Aprajita.

But this is not all for the winter time. Dr S.P. Chaudhary says, “We can’t say this enough! Winter is a time when your pet could need more supplements. It could be something that aids digestion or aid for those painful arthritic joints that swell up in winter. Talk to your vet and decide on the best supplements to help your dog make the transition through winter seamlessly. Also, winter is a dry season and this can increase the chances of dehydration in your dog. Dogs can dehydrate quickly in the winter as in the summer. Therefore, check the water bowl of your dog often .”

And last but not the least, How cold is too cold for puppies? So, the thumb rule is, when we feel cold, they feel too. Dogs can’t retain body heat, hence we often see them shivering when on a cold floor. Puppies need special care when the temperatures start to fall below 17 degrees Celsius, some cold-averse breeds will get uncomfortable and will need protection. For owners of small breeds, puppies, senior dogs, or thin haired breeds, anytime the temperature outside feels at or below 17 degrees Celsius, pull out the sweaters or coats! A soft bed and a thick blanket should provide plenty of warmth for your pup during the winter slumber.

As Dr Mark Hyman, bestselling author and Pritzker Foundation chair in Functional Medicine, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine remarks, “If you optimize your own diet and exercise for wellness and longevity, shouldn’t you provide your dog with the same thoughtful care?”