By Diana Bocco
Dog grooming isn’t just a “hot weather thing.” In fact, dog grooming during the winter months is just as important for the safety and well-being of your pet as it is during the warmer months.
A healthy coat is like a thermos—it acts as a temperature regulator, keeping warmth in during the winter and keeping heat out in summer, explains celebrity veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber, DVM.
The key is to help your dog maintain a healthy coat throughout the seasons so it can regulate temperature properly. “This requires basic care, such as bathing, brushing, keeping moisturized, eliminating mats and tangles,” says Dr. Werber.
To help your dog achieve that healthy winter coat, here are five dog grooming areas that need extra attention when cold days roll around.
Pay Special Attention to Nails
Your furry one’s nails might need some extra attention in winter, as nails wear down less and might collect salt or snow while on outdoor walks. “In winter months, the snow and ice form a barrier between the harsh surfaces and your dog’s feet,” says Dr. Werber. “This reduction in friction results in the nails not getting worn down as much, thus needing more attention.”
In addition, Dr. Werber points out that most people are not as active and don’t tend to run as much with their dogs during the winter, so nails definitely don’t wear down as much.
If you don’t take your dog to the groomer regularly, it might pay off to have a pair of dog nail clippers or a dog nail grinder at home, like the JW Pet Gripsoft deluxe dog nail clipper or the Dremel 7300-PT dog and cat nail grinder kit.
Trim the Hair Between the Toes
In the winter, there are a variety of chemicals and salts used to melt ice on sidewalks and outdoor walkways—and they can get stuck in the hair between the toes and pads, explains Dr. Werber. Licking paws after walks over rock salt can lead to gastrointestinal disturbances as well as electrolyte issues, in some cases.
“Besides possibly ingesting these caustic materials orally, they can also irritate and even cause infection,” Dr. Werber says. “Snow can also get stuck there, creating the potential for frostbite.”
Part of protecting dog paws in winter requires trimming the hair on the feet and between the paw pads to make it easier to wipe them clean of all debris post-walk, explains Courtney Campuzano, owner of Groom & Board, a grooming salon and daycare/boarding center in South Philadelphia.
Try Out Dog Boots
Because of the harsh effects of the salts and many other chemicals applied to sidewalks and streets to accelerate the melting of ice, Dr. Werber recommends outfitting your dog with dog boots or paw protectors if they will accept them.
Products like Musher’s Secret paw protection natural dog wax are also viable options to protect sensitive feet, according to Campuzano, as they form a barrier that protects your dog’s skin from the elements.
Take Care of Dry Skin
Dry dog skin can occur more often in winter for the same reason our skin can get drier in the winter—artificial, dry heat, says Campuzano. “Maintaining a regular bathing schedule is your best defense,” Campuzano says. “Most dogs should get a good shampoo, condition, blow out and brushing about once a month.”
A special moisturizing dog shampoo can help with dry dog skin, according to Dr. Werber. Products like the Veterinary Formula Solutions ultra-oatmeal moisturizing shampoo can be a good place to start.
“But be careful about lotions which can cause the coat to become greasy,” says Dr. Werber. “Try a spray-on, water-based moisturizer instead.”
There are also dog supplements, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can be taken orally to help replenish natural skin oils, says Dr. Werber. If your dog has dry skin, talk to a veterinarian about potential dietary changes or supplements that could help.
Don’t Forget Regular Brushing
Long-haired dogs, like Toy Poodles or Standard Poodles, and drop-coated breeds, like the Shih Tzu and the Maltese, who require haircuts, are more likely to have owners who fall victim to the idea that dog grooming should cease for the winter, according to Campuzano.
“It’s the idea that they need their long coats to keep them warm in the winter,” says Campuzano. “The problem with it is that, as the hair begins to grow longer, the at-home brushing needs to become more frequent, and at some point, it will likely become an unmanageable task.”
The bottom line is that you need to keep your dog’s coat healthy and mat-free at all times, says Dr. Werber. Whether you need to do daily or weekly brushes will depend on the type of coat, its length and whether the hair is prone to tangling.
“A short coat will be fine with a bristle brush, but a longer, thicker coat may require a stronger, more rigid brush,” Dr. Werber says. “Some coats even require special tools to get through the thickness of the coat.”