There is no mistaking it, the winter cold weather is here. For those of us in the Midwest, we had a short reprieve of warmer winter weather…but not anymore! Welcome to the cold winter months!
Just step out into the cold to know that cold weather affects us all physically. This is true for our four legged companions as well. When we go out into the cold, it can be a shock on our system – we shiver, muscles tense, teeth chatter, and our body tightens. Our pets can have a similar experience. Going from a warm house out into the cold air is a big change.
In A Nutshell
In normal circumstances, blood vessels transport warm blood from the internal organs to the skin. When the body gets cold, the blood vessels closest to the skin’s surface shrink in order to reduce heat loss, which also slows the blood flowing through the vessels. Next the shivers begin, which are muscle spasms designed to generate body heat. These spasms can occur in any muscle of the body. Therefore, when the body gets cold, muscles tighten / contract, leaving our muscles feeling tight, stiff and cold!
Tighter muscles and less blood flow restrict the movement of the muscles in the body. Joints also tend to feel tight, stiff and locked, especially if the joint is already compromised from a previous injury or arthritis.
Beware of the Ice!
Another concern in these cold winter months is ice. Slipping on ice is such a danger! So, not only are our muscles already tense from being cold, add slipping on top of that and the result is messy!
While many public areas use salt to melt the ice, salt can burn your pet’s paws. And while there is pet friendly salt available, many public places do not use this. If your pup suddenly lifts his paw while walking, check to see if salt and/or ice have gotten lodged into his paw pad.
Massage Can Help!
So, what can we do to help our companions during these cold winter days? Massage of course! Massage warms and relaxes the muscles of the body. Massage can take those tight muscles and gently encourage them to relax, stretch, and return to its normal state of rest. Massage also gets the blood flowing back into the contracted muscles and joints, improving the overall feeling of comfort in the area. If your pet slips on the ice and it results in pain, tenderness, or a soft tissue issue, massage can help alleviate the pain and inflammation in the area while also supporting other areas in the body that may be affected.Two simple massage techniques for warming your pets muscles before or after going out into the cold are:
- Rubbing the body – gently rub your fingers and/or palm over your pets body (avoiding the spine) to increase the blood flow to the body. This is especially good over the large muscle groups of the leg (“thigh), along the back, about an inch from the spine, the neck, and the shoulders.
- Light compressions – using the palm of your hand, lightly press and release the large muscle groups of the shoulders, hind legs, and neck. Be gentle, this is a light compression not a squeeze! This acts like a pump to get the blood moving in and out.
A Few Winter Thoughts
- Dress for the weather – use a dog sweater or coat if necessary. Both of my dogs have fine fur and get cold easily. They don’t go out in the cold without their sweaters on.
- Keep the paw pads (and nose) moist – this cold weather can cause your pups paw pads and nose to crack. Rub some organic, virgin coconut oil on these areas of the body. Coconut oil is great! It is a wonderfully healthy oil that will moisten the pads and nose of your pet. It is also safe (and healthy) for dogs to eat, so if your pup licks it off, no worries
- PAWS Boots – I love these! They look like rubber balloons, but they are for your dog’s feet. They are lightweight, so not as cumbersome or awkward as some of the other boots out there. On a personal note, when my lab was older and began slipping on our wood floors, I put these on her in the house to prevent her from slipping. They were great! She no longer slipped, and she was much more confident in walking and standing.
- Make your own paw wax – there are many great paw protectors on the market, but I recently came across this recipe on the internet posted by Rodney Habib (and from Dr. Karen Becker):
In a pot melt: 3 oz. beeswax, 2 T coconut oil, 3 oz calendula oil, and 3 T avocado oil. Pour into a small jar, tin, cupcake mold, etc. Let cool and harden. Rub on the paw pads before venturing out! Note: this may be greasy, so don’t apply in the house or your pup could slip and/or get rugs, furniture, beds, etc. greasy.
Wishing you and your companions a safe and Happy New Year!