With its cold temperatures and inclement weather conditions, winter can pose some real risks to your pets while outside. However, most dogs will still need to have daily walks. Use these winter dog tips to keep your pet safe, comfortable, and healthy on his cold weather walks.
1. Keep Toe Hair Clipped
For more comfortable winter walking, keep hair between your dog's toes clipped short. Ice can accumulate on this hair, causing temporary lameness or making it difficult or painful for your dog to walk. Or, better yet, protect your dog from a variety of winter hazards by covering his paws with boots. For dogs who don't need extra paw insulation, there are thin rubber boots that can be easily slipped on the paw and still allow full movement.
2. Wear Boots
Do dogs need boots? Boots are a practical necessity for many dogs and can be beneficial for all dogs in the winter. Protecting from the harsh weather elements, such as snow and ice, which can dry out paws and make your dog chill faster. Winter dog boots also keep your dog's sensitive foot pads from salt and chemicals that are put on the street to remove ice. Dog won't wear boots? A paw wax can act as a barrier that is nearly as effective as boots.
3. Wipe Paws
Always wipe your dog's paws after a winter walk. Use a warm wet washcloth and a towel to dry, or use a pre-moistened pet wipe for convenience. Washing removes salt or ice melt chemicals from your dog's paws before he licks them.
After you have cleaned your pet's paws, use a pet safe skin conditioner on your dog's paws to prevent them from drying out. Dry winter air can make paws rough, cracked, and even split. Make sure the moisturizer you choose is non-toxic and safe for dogs, as your pet will likely lick her paws. Coconut oil is an excellent choice. Not only is it an effective moisturizer, but it is a healthy source of fats and vitamins when ingested, too.
5. Keep It Short
On very cold days, limit your walks unless your dog can handle it. Pay attention to your dog's body language. If he keeps picking up his paws, licking his paws, whining, or shivering, take him home immediately. These are signs your dog is too cold! He may need a coat and boots.
6. Wear a Coat or Sweater
Jackets and sweaters may look silly on dogs, but they can be very useful, too. While some dogs have a fur coat that can withstand cold temperatures and wick away moisture, many dogs do not. A dog winter coat can be a windbreaker, protecting your dog from windchill, can keep your dog from getting wet and chilled, and can add a layer of insulation to keep him warmer for longer.
7. Have A Few Sweaters On Hand
A wet dog coat or sweater can actually make your dog colder outside than his dry, bare fur. Have multiple coats on hand so that you can alternate them on walks throughout the day, or dry your pet's coat in the dryer or over a heat vent after each use.
8. Stick to the Sidewalk
Unless your dog is a cold-loving breed, such as a Siberian Husky or an Alaskan Malamute, you will probably want to keep him out of the deep snow for longer walks. If cold snow touches your dog's soft and unprotected belly, he will chill much faster. Many dogs do not have fur on their bellies, so wading in deep snow may be fun for a few minutes, but could make your dog much colder on extended walks. Keep to ploughed sidewalks and trails, and leave the snow jumping for shorter time periods of backyard play.
9. Plan Ahead
In the winter, it's important that you plan your trip ahead of time. Check the weather and windchill before you leave. Often, it can be colder outside than you initially thought. Rather than taking a long route with only one way back, choose a busy path with a few walk-length options if you are unsure about the weather. Leave the exploring for clear, cool days.
10. Use Reflectors
In the winter, there's a lot less sunlight in the day time. Make sure you and your dog wear reflective clothing or use a reflective collar or leash for your dog to be more visible in the morning and evening. Alternatively, there are leash accessories such as lights you can attach to your dog's leash or collar. Vehicles can have a hard time stopping in the winter, so ensure that drivers can see you and your dog long before they have to stop for you.
11. Walk in the Day
If at all possible, schedule your dog's daily walk in the daylight hours. Not only will it likely be warmer for you and your dog, but you will be more visible to vehicles in the sunlight.
12. Shovel Snow
While not technically a walking tip, this is a friendly reminder of the golden rule. Be a good neighbour! As a common courtesy, shovel snow on your sidewalks as soon as you can once it falls. This makes your sidewalk much more hospitable to pets and their owners walking.
13. Use Pet-Safe Traction
Most chemical ice-melts are not safe for pets. Choose a non-toxic, pet-friendly traction product, such as Ecotraction, and encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same. Most chemical ice-melts are not good for children or lawns, either, so it's not just your pet who will benefit. Stay away from salt, too. Unlike table salt, road salt can include contaminants as well as high amounts of minerals and heavy metals that could prove toxic to your pet. Salt can also be damaging to sidewalks, corrode metal wiring, and can irritate pet paws, causing them to dry out or have a burning sensation.
14. Stop Grazing
While it may seem logical, take extra precautions to ensure that your dog is not ingesting anything he finds while on his winter walk. Chemical ice melting products, road salt, and antifreeze are all very common finds on the winter sidewalks, and each can be quite damaging to your pet. Even pet-safe versions of these are toxic at certain amounts. Have your pet eat before you leave the house, so that she is not hungry during her walk. Bring along some treats for distraction if you need it. If you are going to be gone for a half hour or longer, bring along some fresh water for rehydration.
15. Lobby for Change
Does your municipality have a bylaw against using toxic ice-melting products? Or against traditional antifreeze (ethylene glycol) that can be deadly for pets who ingest it? There are safer, effective solutions out there and many cities have already made the switch. The best way to initiate change is to raise awareness. Not sure how to go about it? Rally with a local shelter to find other interested parties and to spread your concern.
16. Apply First Aid
If your dog's paws do happen to split and there is an open sore, taking appropriate dog first aid care is crucial. Clean your dog's wound first with water. Use an antibacterial first aid spray or lotion for pets to prevent infection. Wrap area with a clean gauze or pet bandage. Keep walks to a minimum during the healing process. If you are walking your pet while her paw is still healing, make sure she wears boots to keep irritants out and to protect the wound from reopening.
17. Alleviate Arthritis
Cold, winter weather can aggravate conditions such as arthritis in your dog. If your pet suffers from arthritis, you may want to keep winter walks shorter. Natural dog health supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, are helpful for lubricating joints and soothing pain associated with arthritis. If your dog limps or seems stiff in the morning or on walks, try a dog arthritis supplement, particularly if your dog is a senior.
18. Try Alternative Exercise
If it's really cold outside, don't let your pet's exercise suffer. In the coldest months, try signing up for an indoor class with your dog or using an indoor walking area (make sure dogs are allowed first) to boost your pet's winter activity levels. If your dog is getting her required exercise in, she's less likely to turn to destructive behaviour out of boredom.
19. Look for Cues
While you should know what your dog's breed says about his cold-threshold, you should also pay attention to inividual cues. Dogs will let you know when they've had enough of the cold. While you can let your dog play outside in the cold weather, never leave your pet unattended for long periods of time, particularly if they are a small breed or a breed with little cold protection, even if they have a coat and boots. Watch your dog for signs that she is getting too cold, such as whining, begging at the door, lifting or licking paws excessively, and shivering. Even though some breeds are more cold-tolerant, no dog should be left outside for prolonged periods of time with no warm shelter to retreat to.
20. Watch for Frostbite
Frostbite can be a real threat to pets, who, like kids, may be having too much fun in the snow to notice frosbite while it is happening. Watch ears, nose, foot pads, and tail, as these are the most common places for frostbite to occur. Frostbitten skin is cold, pale, and hard, and it often turns red and puffy after it warms a bit. If you suspect your dog has frostbite, apply a warm, not hot, rag to the affected area once inside, and also cover with a blanket (though not an electric one). Don't let your dog lick, scratch, or chew at the affected area, as this can lead to infection or cause permanent damage. If you are concerned, call your vet.
21. Keep a Tight Leash
When walking around ice-covered areas, such as frozen lakes or ponds, keep your dog on a tight leash and don't allow him to roam onto the ice. There's no way to easily tell how solid the ice is and your dog could fall in, pulling you along with him.
22. Have Up to Date ID
Does your dog have proper identification on his collar or a microchip? Make sure that you keep your information current in case your pet gets out. Winter weather is sometimes harder for pets to navigate in, which could make it harder for your pet to get back home if he gets out. Up to date information on an engraved dog ID tag may be the difference in your pet getting home safely or not. Going away on vacation in the winter? Have an alternate tag with a temporary contact or address that you can use.
23. Adjust Food if You Need To
Pets who are spending more time outside in the winter will require more energy, so you should adjust their food accordingly. However, if your dog is mostly spending his time indoors, you may actually need to cut down his portions slightly. Your dog should maintain a steady weight year round. Too much fluctuation seasonally can be hazardous to their health. Monitor your pet's weight regularly and adjust your dog's feeding for proper weight maintenance.
24. Avoid Metal
Everyone knows not to lick metal objects in cold weather. While this can pose the same threat to your dog's tongue as yours, it's not the only metal you should be concerned about. If you are walking your pet in winter, steer clear of metal lampposts, metal plates, man-hole covers, electrical boxes, and other metal objects as these carry with them the risk of electric shock. Melting temperatures, ice salt on the roads and sidewalks, and faulty wiring can all contribute to electric shock when your pet is near or around metal objects. For the safety of your pet – stay away!
25. Limit Snow Intake
It may seem harmless, but snow is not good for your dog to consume in large amounts. A little snow is unlikely to do any damage, but eating snow does have its risks. For one thing, you never know what may be in the snow - antifreeze, chemicals, or some other contaminant. In excessive amounts, snow can cause intestinal upset, including diarrhea and vomiting, in some dogs. There's even a name for it : Winter Blap Disease. Hydrate your dog before leaving for your walk and if you will be out for a while, bring along some fresh water for drinking. Water will be way more thirst-quenching than snow for your dog, anyhow.
Stay healthy and happy with your dog getting your daily exercise in the winter! It's not always easy walking with your pet in the winter, but the benefits almost always outweigh the risks.