The cold winter months can bring health and safety challenges for our canine friends.

Shorter days and long cold evenings in front of the fireplace can result in too much confinement, causing a lack of exercise resulting in weight gain.

However, on days when weather permits, make sure your canine companion goes for a long walk or romp. But be sure to tailor that activity and time spent outdoors to your pet's breed and age. Some breeds like the Siberian Husky can tolerate longer periods outdoors but others such as the Great Dane or Dachshund can't tolerate long exposure. Small breeds and those with short coats might benefit from a doggie sweater or a specially made jacket. But if you do utilize a sweater, be sure to supervise your animal while wearing it. If the sweater's threads get tangled, the dog could become stuck and unable to free himself.

Our canine friends need to build up a thicker coat and toughen up their footpads before they can be left outside for extended periods of time. When exposed to cold they could develop hypothermia or even develop frostbite. Their ear tips are especially sensitive to frostbite.

Wintertime can be tough on skin and hair for pets as well as humans. With windows closed and the heat turned up the low humidity can make your pet's skin dry and itchy as well as causing static electricity in his coat.

But, with a little tender loving care, you can make your best friend more comfortable. Frequent brushings stimulate the natural oils in the skin and will go a long way to help combat the dryness.

Antifreeze is another threat. A small amount of the sweet tasting chemical can kill a dog or cat. Because of the pleasant taste it is extremely important to be extra vigilant and make sure your pet does not have contact with it. Be sure to keep it safely put away and mop up any spills in the driveway and garage. If you believe your animal has consumed any contact your veterinarian immediately.

The chemicals used to melt ice on sidewalks can cause cracking and irritation to your pets' feet. Be sure to wash their feet with warm water after walks. Or purchase a set of doggie boots.