Winter pet health for dogs

Woman hiking in white winter forest with akita dog. Recreation and healthy lifestyle outdoors in nature. Akita dog portrait on s
Woman hiking in white winter forest with akita dog. Recreation and healthy lifestyle outdoors in nature. Akita dog portrait on s

Winter takes its toll on all of us, and man's best friend is no exception – but while we can take care of ourselves, your dog has to rely on you to look after it and prepare it for the colder months. Here are five ways you can help Fido fend off the worst of winter...

See also: Five best dog coats for every budget

Keep them warm and bright
As the temperatures drop and the nights draw in, dogs feel the cold just the same as us – so if you're putting an extra layer on your pet might need one too.

Thin-coated breeds such as whippets, greyhounds and Staffordshire bull terriers may need to wear an even thicker coat than usual when the mercury really drops.

Go for something with hi-vis and/or reflective elements to make sure drivers can see your pet – and consider a light-up collar if you're likely to be letting your dog off the lead in the dark.

Think before you treat
We all like to eat a bit too much of the wrong food at Christmas, and the worst that usually happens is we fall asleep in front of the TV after loosening our belts a notch or two.

However some of the festive foods we love to scoff can be poisonous for dogs, so make sure you don't leave bars of chocolate wrapped up under the tree or mince pies on the coffee table. The raisins in the mince pies can actually cause kidney failure in dogs.

It's not even a good idea to give your pet a portion of Christmas dinner. Seasoning used in stuffing and gravy can cause vomiting and diarrhoea – and you probably don't want to spend your Christmas afternoon cleaning that up.

Try not to give your dog a lot more fatty food than normal – such as turkey skin or pork crackling - as this can cause inflammation of the pancreas.

Train your guests
If you're having family over to visit at Christmas and your dog isn't used to young visitors, there are a few things you can do to help things run smoothly.

It's worth taking the time to explain to youngsters that while dogs may look cute and fluffy, they don't enjoy being cuddled like a teddy bear.

Consider moving your dog's bed, food and water to a quiet room where it can escape the hubbub, perhaps giving it a bone if you're concerned it might be anxious about being shut away.

Take the opportunity to take your pet for a long walk, which will tire it out and could give young visitors who are scared of dogs the opportunity to get used to your pet and even hold its lead.

Paws for thought
Just as we get chapped skin and lips in winter, so your dog can suffer from the cold as well – and it's the paws which can take the brunt of it.

Walking on hard surfaces in the cold, or in snow and ice can be more irritating than your normal walkies, and small and delicate dogs such as toy breeds can be particularly susceptible.

Grit and road salt used for de-icing tarmac contain chemicals which can have an irritating effect on paws if there is prolonged exposure to them. Try to avoid gritted roads or pavements, and wipe your dogs paws with a damp cloth when you get back home.

If walking in snow and ice, check for ice balls forming in between your dog's claws. Maybe trim the hair around their paws in winter to prevent this.

If your dog suffers chapped paws in the cold, you could apply a barrier cream or wax to protect them – or even buy "booties" for it to wear.

On thin ice
Really cold weather walks can be some of the best of the year, when the ground is suddenly frozen and firm rather than muddy and slippery. However sub-zero temperatures bring another risk for dog owners to be aware of - frozen lakes, rivers and ponds.

It's sensible to avoid these or keep your animal on a lead as you pass them, as we've all seen news stories about dogs chasing ducks across the ice and falling in.

If the worst happens and your animal does fall in, firefighters strongly advise against risking your life by following it out onto the ice – suggesting that most dogs manage to get out again by themselves.