Cold, snowy weather can make dog walking a dicey and unpleasant task. But no matter what’s happening outside, our pups still need their daily exercise. By following a few simple tips, winter dog walking can be a safe and enjoyable experience for both you and your canine friend. Here’s what you need to do:
Many breeds do well in winter—Huskies, Malamutes, and Samoyeds, for example—but many do not. If your pup wasn’t built for the cold (or if they’re older, younger or sick), make sure to bundle them up before heading outside. Coats, sweaters, vests—there are many options to choose from. Make sure to bundle up yourself while you’re at it.
Because dogs’ paw pads are sensitive to cold temperatures, and because the snow can hide hazards like sharp objects and toxic de-icing salts, booties should play a role in nearly every winter dog walk. But before strapping them on your pup’s feet and heading for a walk, get them accustomed to wearing them first. It usually takes dogs a few days to get the hang of wearing them.
Metal poses several risks to dogs during winter walks. Firstly, if your pup were to lick or walk across an ice-caked metal surface they could become stuck and harm themselves. Secondly—and this is the scary one—coming into contact with frozen metal items like lamp posts or electrical boxes could actually electrocute your pet. Winter’s moist conditions, abundance of street salt, and tendency to interfere with electrical wiring all make for a dangerous combination. Just to be safe, steer clear of metal and metal surfaces when dog walking in winter.
Don’t Let Your Pup Eat Snow
There’s no telling what’s in or underneath the snow you come across during winter walks—which is why letting your pup eat snow is a big no-no. Antifreeze, toxic pesticides, harmful de-icing salts, animal waste, sharp objects—all could be lurking in the snow your pup tries to lick or eat. Even plain old snow can make your pup sick. Winter blap disease, which happens as a result of abundant snow consumption, can cause intestinal distress like vomiting and diarrhea.
Drink Plenty of Water
One way to keep your pup from eating snow on walks is to thoroughly hydrate them beforehand. Winter’s frigid temperatures have a way of drying out your pup. Not to mention that winter gear like sweaters and booties can rob your pup of much needed moisture. Always give your dog access to plenty of water before and after winter walks.
Look Out for Ice
Even the smallest sheet of ice can spell trouble for you and your pup. In addition to sharp edges potentially cutting your dog’s paws, a fall by either of you could cause injury to both of you. Take it slow, and always watch out for places where icy surfaces might be hiding.
Bag the Poop
Somehow somewhere dog owners got the idea they didn’t have to bag their pup’s poop during winter. This is not a good idea, nor a healthy one. While snow might hide the mess momentarily, dog poop becomes a problematic issue once the weather heats up again. Bacteria, pests and disease can all result from improperly disposed of dog poop. Keep your community safe and clean by always bagging dog poop—especially in winter.
Use the Sidewalk
As we’ve mentioned, snow can hide items that could harm your pet—like ice, sharp objects or chemicals. Considering this, we suggest sticking to sidewalks when doing your daily winter stroll. Plus, the dryer your pup stays the warmer they’ll stay, too. Playing in snow is certainly fine if you know the area and understand the safety concerns. But if you’re looking to maximize your dog’s exercise, sidewalks are the way to go.
Have Towels Ready
A dry towel by the front door after a winter walk is a must. Not only will it spare your carpet mud, snow and other messes, it’ll help warm your pup up after a chilly walk. Ice, snow, and salt can easily get lodged between your dog’s toes and throughout their coat when playing in the cold. Thoroughly toweling them off afterward is an important final step in keeping your dog safe and warm.
Flea and Tick Protection
Remember: Flea and ticks still bite in winter. Protect from bites by applying a naturally-sourced insect repellent to both you and your pup before starting your daily walk.
No matter how bundled up your pup is they’re going to get cold at some point, which is why paying attention to their body language is key. Watch closely, looking out for signs that your dog is becoming too cold or uncomfortable. Failure to notice such signs could have serious consequences, such as hypothermia or frostbite. Here’s what you need to look out for:
- Barking, whining or any other verbal sign of discomfort
- Suddenly stops playing or moving—Your dog could be uncomfortable, or their pads might be hurting from snow or ice exposure
- Signs of Hypothermia in dogs: Intense shivering, lethargy, shallow breathing, loss of appetite, muscle stiffness, weak pulse
- Signs of Frostbite in dogs: Red, gray, blue, white or pale skin; shriveled skin; pain in the ears, tail, paws or other extremities; skin that remains cold to the touch