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There’s no doubt that Labrador retrievers are well-adapted for cold climates – it’s in their DNA! You might have noticed how much they enjoy playing in the snow. This leads to an important question: how much time can your Lab spend playing in the snow?
A Lab shouldn’t play in the snow for very long, as there is risk of hypothermia and other problems if their body temperature drops below 100°F.
In this article, I’ll discuss why it’s unsafe for Labradors to spend long periods in the snow. Then, we’ll have a look at health complications and environmental hazards arising from freezing temperatures. Lastly, I’ll share tips on how to maintain your Lab’s safety when playing in the snow.
Why a Labrador Shouldn’t Play in the Snow for Too Long
Labradors are typical “outside” dogs, and their history explains why they thrive well in wetlands and cold weather. Their ancestors helped fishermen retrieve catch from freezing waters, hence, their webbed feet. A double coat also enhances their adaptability in such chilly conditions.
Apart from being well-adapted to cold climates, Labradors naturally love playing in the snow. That’s why you’re probably having a hard time getting your Lab back inside during winter. Letting your Lab play out in the cold for a long time may seem harmless, but it threatens his health.
Here are the reasons why you shouldn’t let your Lab play in the snow for long:
Despite having a cold and water-resistant double coat, Labs can’t tolerate long periods of extremely low temperatures. Exposing your Lab to temperatures below 20°F (-7°C) will lead to health complications that could be fatal in extreme situations. These include hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia in dogs is a condition where their body temperature significantly drops below 100° F (37.78 °C). It arises when a dog has been exposed to frigid temperatures or his coat is wet. Labs enjoy rolling in the snow and swimming in freezing waters; thus, they can suffer from hypothermia.
Hypothermia can cause other health complications since a significantly low temperature slows down breathing and the heart rate. Therefore, it can cause kidney or heart failure, difficulties in breathing, and frostbite. Moreover, your Lab may be at risk of coma or even death.
When playing with your Lab in the snow, it’s crucial to recognize early signs of hypothermia and take action immediately. According to Dr. Armstrong of Ark Animal Hospital in Chalfont, many pet owners contribute to the occurrence of hypothermia when they don’t notice early signs of the condition or let their pets spend cold nights outdoors.
Be alert and get your Lab inside when you notice the following symptoms:
- Shivering, a hunched posture, or inactivity: These are signs that your dog is trying to conserve their body heat.
- Cold paws, ear tips, nose, and tail: These cold extremities occur when your Lab’s body is trying to conserve heat and restrict blood circulation in vital organs. Extremities (like ears and paws) will receive less blood; thus, they’ll be colder than other parts.
- Weaknesses, acting sleepy, or lethargy: Your Lab may start becoming inactive and have trouble walking.
- Dilated pupils: When the inner black parts of a dog’s eyes become larger.
- Unconsciousness or coma: This is a severe sign that calls for an urgent visit to the vet.
- Difficulties in breathing
- Low body temperatures (below 98 °F or 36.67 °C)
- Pale blue gums and eyelids
A quick response can save your Labrador’s life. Therefore, once you notice these signs, you should take the following steps:
- Wrap your Lab in a warm blanket.
- Take the dog indoors and keep them in a warm room.
- Dry off your Lab’s fur using warm towels.
- If using a hot water bottle or heating pads to warm up your Lab, wrap them first in a towel to avoid burning your dog.
- Check your dog’s temperature regularly. However, call a vet immediately if your Lab doesn’t respond to heating and temperatures remain below 95 °F (35 °C).
- Let your Lab have warm fluids.
- Closely monitor your Lab and seek medical intervention if the symptoms worsen.
Letting your Lab spend hours playing in the snow exposes them to frostbite. This condition occurs when body parts (especially ears, paws, and tail) are damaged due to extreme cold. This is usually when temperatures fall below 32 °F (0 °C). Frostbite may range from mild to severe depending on the dog’s size, age, or health condition.
Your Labrador is most likely frostbitten when you notice the following signs:
- Pale blue or grey discoloration in affected areas: Due to less blood flow
- Pain when these parts are touched
- Swelling, ulceration, or blistering: After warming up your Lab
- Blackened or dead skin: In severe cases
To treat frostbite:
- Place and compress a warm towel on the affected areas (but do not rub them).
- Wrap a warm towel on your Lab if he’s shivering.
- Consult a vet if the affected parts are swollen or have blisters.
Environmental Hazards From Cold Weather
Apart from the health conditions arising from overexposure to cold weather, your Lab can encounter the following environmental hazards when out in the snow:
While it’s logical to pour salt or deicing products on sidewalks to prevent slipping, they can damage your Lab’s paws. Moreover, since dogs love frolicking in the snow, these solutions can harm your Lab’s health when consumed.
But there are some solutions to these harmful situations. To avoid such dangerous scenarios, you can:
- Use pet-friendly deicers on your sidewalks.
- Wipe or wash your Lab’s paws, legs, and belly to remove any harmful chemicals they may have collected in the snow.
- Dress your Lab in protective wear, including jackets and booties.
Your Lab may come across antifreeze drips from car radiators when playing outside and lick it. This will lead to poisoning as the products contain toxic ethylene glycol.
Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning are:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Drunken behavior and weakness
- Increased urination
- Convulsions or seizures
- Unconsciousness or coma
Call a vet immediately if you notice the above signs in your Lab. You can also avoid antifreeze poisoning by preventing your dog from playing near garages or driveways where drips can occur.
How To Keep Your Lab Safe When Playing in the Snow
As mentioned earlier, Labradors are vulnerable to health and environmental hazards from overexposure to extremely low temperatures.
So, here are ways to keep your Lab safe when playing in the snow:
- Health examination. Take your Lab to the vet for a check-up before the cold weather to know their health conditions. You should take more precautions if your dog has underlying health problems.
- Use protective wear. Though Labs have a cold-resistant double coat, extremely cold weather can take a toll on your dog, especially if it’s aged or unwell. Hence, you might need a winter jacket like the Kuoser Cozy Cold Weather Dog Jacket from Amazon.com. It ranges in size from XS to 3XL and comes in multiple colors.
- Know the limits. If the cold weather is unbearable to you, it may not be conducive to your dog either. So you shouldn’t let your Lab play in the snow any longer after that. Also, limit playtime even further if your lab suffers from hormonal imbalances, diabetes, or arthritis.
- Monitor your Lab regularly. Check for any signs of hypothermia or frostbite, including shivering, paleness on palms, or sudden weakness.
- Keep your Lab fed and hydrated. Your Lab requires more energy to play in the snow. Also, they may get dehydrated if you don’t provide fresh water frequently.
Labradors are naturally suited for cold weather and love playing in the snow. However, they can’t play out in the snow for too long as overexposure to cold weather is harmful to their health.