Winter Care For Dogs


Dear Dr. Dog: I have an older Cocker Spaniel who’s in pretty good health, but I always worry about her when the cold weather comes on. Is she more likely to get sick in the winter months, and are there any preventative measures I should take?


With winter approaching, there are many things to think about when it comes to your fine furry friend. Even though we live in a wonderful climate here in the Bay Area, we still see temperatures drop and sunshine hiding behind clouds or fog, sometimes for many days on end. 

As a result, we may not get out with our dogs as often, so there are mobility and weight control issues to consider. The holiday season brings lots of potential goodies to ingest that may create problems. Unfortunately, temperatures do not get low enough to rid our lives of fleas, plus there are other potential skin ailments in winter.

Let’s take a look at some common canine winter maladies and what can be done about them. 



Cold weather can make for sore joints in dogs that have had minor injuries or the beginnings of arthritis. Repeated wear and tear injuries to a dog’s joints often lead to stiffness and pain on chilly days. If your Spaniel has a little trouble getting up from her comfy dog bed in the morning, you may be seeing the signs of arthritis.

A trip to your veterinarian may be necessary if the symptoms persist. An examination and sometimes x-rays are needed to isolate where the trouble is. On x-rays, we look for roughening of the bones and swelling inside the affected joints. If we find them, we are likely to diagnose degenerative joint disease, commonly known as arthritis.

It is common for older dogs such as your Spaniel to have some issues with arthritis. Joints that can be affected include the knees, elbows, shoulders, and even the spine. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, there are various ways to help her with the pain and to slow down the progress of the disease, including glucosamine supplements, anti-inflammatory med-ications, acupuncture, and even chiropractic treatments. You can decide how to best help your furry friend with the resources your veterinarian offers.


Weight Gain

Another common winter issue veterinarians see in their canine clients, particularly Cocker Spaniels, is the battle of the bulge. There tend to be fewer walks around the block but just as many treats being eaten, not to mention extra goodies during the holidays. This often leads to a few gained pounds that can really slow down your elderly pup. If she has arthritis, this will make her get up even more slowly from her bed in the morning. 

The moral of the story is that if she is not exercising as much, cut back on her food intake accordingly. Her body should be trim enough that you can see a waist. Be firm and ignore her big brown eyes when you are eating those popcorn balls and cocktail appetizers!



If your dog overindulges in trimmings from the table (or from the garbage can if she is a sneaky girl), she may end up with a case of pancreatitis. We often see this around the holidays when dogs eat something too fatty or too rich. Just like in humans, a dog’s pancreas secretes enzymes to help digest the fats and carbohydrates in the diet. When it is overworked, the organ becomes inflamed, causing lots of enzymes to be released. Dogs with pancreatitis end up with painful bellies, lots of vomiting, and dehydration. 

These symptoms call for a trip to the pet hospital to check a blood panel for diagnosis and may also require a stay in the hospital on intravenous fluids for a day or two, until the pancreas calms down. The problem is curable in most dogs with these supportive steps, so call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect it.


Skin Problems 

The Bay Area does not often have freezing temperatures, and this gives fleas a fighting chance to stay around all year long. If your Cocker Spaniel is allergic to fleas, as many are, you should continue monthly flea control during the entire year. This will avoid the dreaded itching and chewing at her tail in the middle of the night.

If she itches and chews anyway, it may be that she is allergic to dust, molds, or any number of other things in her environment, including the food she eats. If she is an itchy girl in the winter, be sure to have your veterinarian check for fleas and evaluate her skin (and those Spaniel ears) for inflammation and infection. There are many ways to help stop the itching, which your veterinarian will discuss. Don’t forget to keep up with baths; no excuses, as long as you have hot water available.

Winter is a wonderful time to slow down and enjoy some cozy togetherness with your dog. I hope you both stay in good health all season long.

Dr. Karen Buchinger has been practicing veterinary medicine since 1988. She is the owner of Alameda Pet Hospital at 2275 Buena Vista Avenue in Alameda; 510-523-1626.


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