MJ Wixsom: Snow is a wonder for dog’s senses

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

This morning, on the way to the truck with my dog Whiskey, I noticed the snow was squeaking. 

From my sled dog trail vet time, I remembered that meant the temperature was below 10 degrees F, but warmer than zero.  

Winter holds a special magic in the world of sled dog veterinary care. 

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As a sled dog veterinarian, I’ve come to appreciate not only the challenges, but also the unique symphony of sounds that snow produces.

The pristine white landscape isn’t just a visual feast; it’s a rich auditory experience. 

The soft crunch underfoot, the muffled silence of a snowfall and the eerie creaking of frozen surfaces — all contribute to the complex soundscape of snow. 

These sounds, influenced by temperature, snow type and the environment, create a mesmerizing winter melody.

Sled dogs are masters of the winter wilderness, and their connection to the snowy environment goes beyond the visual. 

These canines, with their heightened senses, interpret and respond to the subtle nuances of snow sounds. 

The soft pad of paws on fresh powder, the distinct crunch of packed snow — they all convey information vital for a sled dog’s navigation and communication.

One of the captivating aspects of the snow symphony is how it changes its tune with temperature variations. 

In colder temperatures, snow tends to emit a sharper, more crystalline sound as ice crystals form, creating a musical tinkling. 

Warmer temperatures, on the other hand, bring about a softer, denser sound as the snow becomes more compact. 

Picture a crisp symphony of tinkling ice crystals in the cold, contrasted with a gentle, muted melody on a milder winter day. 

Each shift in temperature composes a unique verse in winter’s ever-changing song.

Colder temperatures (below freezing): Sharp, crystalline sounds resembling a tinkling melody.

Warmer temperatures (above freezing): Softer, denser sounds with a muted quality.

Medical Implications

Winter brings its own set of challenges for sled dog health. 

As a sled dog veterinarian, I pay close attention to medical considerations specific to snowy conditions. 

Paw care becomes paramount, with the cold and abrasive snow potentially causing issues. 

Temperature management and preventive measures against frostbite are crucial aspects of ensuring sled dogs stay healthy during winter adventures. 

When it is this cold, make sure you check for ice balls in your dog’s feet if they have been out for any time.

In my daily work, being attuned to the sounds of snow is more than an appreciation for nature; it’s a diagnostic tool. 

The soundscape offers valuable insights into the well-being of sled dogs. 

An abrupt change in gait or a hesitation in movement can be indicative of an issue. 

Understanding these cues allows me to provide timely and effective care, ensuring the sled dogs under my watch are in optimal health.

As we revel in the enchanting sounds of snow, let’s not forget the integral role they play in the world of sled dog veterinary care. 

The symphony of winter, influenced by temperature shifts, is a tapestry of communication, navigation, and health considerations for our four-legged companions. 

So, the next time you hear the soft whisper of snow underfoot, take a moment to appreciate the interconnectedness between the sounds of winter, temperature variations, and the well-being of sled dogs — it’s a harmony worth celebrating.

Some days I miss the peace and beauty of the sled dog trail. 

Today, I’m glad to not be in the cold.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566