As frigid temperatures grip much of the country, there is no time like the present to consider how the cold affects your rabbit dogs. A glance outside is likely to reveal snow falling or ice forming, both of which can have a major impact on your animals. This means paying special attention to their needs across the board, including time spent in the field chasing rabbits.
The enthusiasm of a beagle in hot pursuit of a rabbit is tough to match. As dogs pick up a scent and set off to work, honing in on the task at hand, it is easy for them to get somewhat lost in the moment. This could mean plunging into the elements to their own detriment at times. When cold temperatures are present, it is up to owners to cater to the cold weather needs of their dogs. Though it is true that the canine is well equipped for survival, as dogs run through snow and ice or even plunge into icy water, precautions need to be taken to ensure the continued good health of those animals. Don't let a seemingly warm coat or high hunting drive fool you into a sense of complacency with it comes to the cold weather needs of a rabbit dog.
The first thing you should consider when running dogs in the cold is caloric needs. The amount of calories it takes a dog to stay in good flesh during the warmer months will vary from what is needed when cold weather arrives. The reason for this is because, though the work load may remain similar, the body is actually working harder as it must devote calories to staying warm in addition to going to work. Thus the colder it is, the more calories that are burned when hunting and the more food that will be required. The goal here is to help retain body fat to act as insulation against the cold and reduce heat loss when hunting. When planning a food increase, be sure to go with high quality, nutrient- rich food and make an overall increase as needed as opposed to feeding a large meal before or after a hunt; it may be necessary to increase the number of daily feedings you provide in order to meet the caloric needs of your dogs.
Another means of keeping your dog in ideal condition during hunting season is to protect skin. Frostbite can do serious harm to canines, so pay special attention to the skin of your rabbit dogs. Most susceptible are ears, toes, and tails, so keep an eye on those areas in particular. If your dog gets muddy or has ice caked on him or her, remove this immediately. Keep an eye on paw pads as well, watching for signs of cracking or bleeding. Should such a problem occur, veterinary care will likely be necessary.
Photo: Midway USA
A popular option for giving dogs some extra warmth in the field is the addition of a neoprene vest. In addition to keeping cold at bay, neoprene vests also provide a barrier between your dog and sharp objects such as thorns or ice shards. When shopping for a vest, be sure to get one that fits snug against your dog's body as leaving too much space can allow moisture to seep in which will nullify the presence of the vest. Do take care with neoprene, however, and be sure not to use it once it gets too warm as neoprene can scald sensitive skin when it gets hot and moist.
Some other dangers to keep an eye out when hunting in extreme temperatures include slips and falls on ice. These can result in joint and ligament damage in dogs. It is also possible that they could fall through seemingly frozen bodies of water, going on to drown or suffer from hypothermia. Signs of hypothermia include violent shivering, listlessness, and apathy. Dogs that appear hypothermic should be wrapped in blankets and taken indoors and placed in a warm bath to bring their temperature back up. Following up with your vet is also wise to ensure the wellbeing and recovery of affected dogs.
Do you have any cold weather tips you'd like to share? What are the steps you take to keep your rabbit dogs warm and healthy in the winter? Let us know in the comments.