Previously I have described Newfoundlands as first cousins to the polar bear so it may seem strange that there could be any winter hazards for such a hearty cold weather breed. However I have found four possibilities; if they lived in the wild like the polar bears that list would be narrowed down to only one.
That one would be ice balls. In certain snow conditions balls of hard snow form in the feet and because a Newf has webbing in the paws, these balls can get trapped. This results in the equivalent of a person having a stone in their shoe. Normally your Newf will stop and try to lick the ice out of their paw. On a walk this can be a nuisance with your fur baby stopping ever few feet to tend to his feet. When hitched to a sled or other apparatus it is completely disruptive. To deal with the problem you could put booties on your dog or use one of the commercially available mushers’ waxes designed for such situations. Some folks find that smearing petroleum jelly on the underside of the paws does the trick.
Another problem can occur because most Newfs live indoors and this means they can suffer like us humans from what is often termed “winter itch”. Dry air during the cold season can be a problem especially if you have electric or wood burning heat or if your furnace humidifier is not in A-1 condition. Relative humidity of 40 – 60% is considered the comfort zone for us humans. Contrary to popular belief Newfoundlands and canines in general are not bothered by high humidity since they do not depend on perspiration for cooling. However the skin on Newfs can be drastically affected when the humidity is low. So if your Newfoundland gets skin issues as the weather turns cold, before you start mucking around with their diet or running to the vet, check the humidity in your home. I purchased a simple device to measure relative humidity for $2.99 at Canadian Tire. If your device registers below 40, get a humidifier.
What seems to be rapidly growing problem with our Newfs these days are ruptured cruciate ligaments. Research is being done to see if there is a genetic predisposition and other research has come out suggesting that early spay neuter may be the problem. No matter – ultimately this type of knee affliction is a twisting injury and such injuries can be prevented or at least the chances of an occurrence can be minimized. In winter the most likely cause of a knee injury is slipping on ice or hard packed snow. A simple way to keep your Newf from slipping is to not cut his rear toe nails. If you normally have the nails clipped at a groomer’s or a vet clinic, just instruct them to only cut the nails on the front feet.
Many Newf guardians are finding that grooming devices that remove undercoat like Furminator or Mars Coat King help keep their fur babies from matting and reduce the shedding experience. Much as this is desirable, you can overdo it. Removing too much of the undercoat can leave your Newfoundland vulnerable to the winter cold as this is the insulating layer. So please use such tools with care during the cold season.Peter Maniate has been writing a column about Newfoundland dogs since January, 1996, originally for Dogs in Canada magazine and now for Newf News. The preceding column originally appeared in the November/December, 2013 issue of Newf News. Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.