It’s wintertime out there, so we’re offering up some best practices for safely walking your dog in the cold and snow — as well as some exercise alternatives for when it’s too cold for even the hardiest of cold-weather-loving dog breeds.
Protect Their Paws
A lot of dogs like to run and play in the snow, but over time, snow and ice can collect between their paw pads, making it uncomfortable and potentially painful for them to walk. You can help prevent snow and ice clumps forming by keeping the hair between their paw pads trimmed and stopping periodically on your walk to remove built up snow or ice from their paws.
Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed can also help prevent snow and ice buildup between paw pads. Long nails force the paw to spread out which makes it more likely for snow and ice to build up. You could also try pet boots to help keep your dog’s paws dry and free of ice balls — if they will tolerate them. They may prance around for a while trying to work out how to walk again, but with lots of practice (inside first) and praise, they will hopefully become accustomed to their new purposeful fashion accessory.
You can also help keep your dog’s paw pads from drying and cracking during winter by using a moisture-rich salve or a protective paw wax. The non-toxic wax creates a semipermeable barrier between your dog’s paw and the sidewalk.
Use Your Street Smarts
If your daily walking path takes you down streets and sidewalks, there are a few things to watch out for in winter that weren’t there during your summer strolls. Salt and deicer can make it safer to walk on slippery roads or sidewalks in winter, but they can also be damaging to dog’s paw pads and can be toxic if ingested. It’s a good idea to rinse and dry off your dog’s paws after their walk. That way if they lick their paws, there’s a lower chance of them ingesting potentially toxic ice melt chemicals that can cause vomiting and seizures. Make sure your dog’s paws are dry before they go outside again. You can help protect your pets by using deicers around your house that are pet safe.
Make sure you also keep the antifreeze bottle out of reach and check that it isn’t leaking on the floor. Antifreeze can be very toxic if the active ingredient is ethylene glycol, so if you suspect your dog consumed antifreeze you should seek veterinary care immediately.
Are They Walking on Thin Ice?
Your dog may be tempted to try out their skating skills on the local pond, but you should keep them on their leash to avoid this temptation. Your dog can’t read the “No Skating” sign, so they need you to hold them back and keep them safe. They don’t realize that their favorite summer swimming spot is now a freezing cold and potentially dangerous ice bath. Even if the ice seems thick enough, variations in temperature can lead to cracks and thinning ice where pets can fall through. The slippery ice can also cause injuries for dogs who aren’t natural skaters (which is probably most dogs).
Puppy, It’s Cold Outside
If you have an Alaskan malamute or a Siberian husky, they are probably perfectly at home romping about in the snow and cold thanks to their genetics and double-layer fur coat. But if you’re the pawrent to a Chihuahua or a dachshund, their short hair and small frame are likely to have them wanting back inside as soon as they set one paw out the door.
Hairless breeds or breeds with short or thin hair may need some extra help to keep warm on a winter walk, as will very young or very old dogs and small dogs that have trouble regulating their heat. A well-designed coat can help keep your dog warm on their walk, with the added bonus of being the fanciest dog on the block. Just make sure the coat is warm and comfortable and doesn’t limit your dog’s movement or restrict their ability to go potty. Coats are also available that have reflective material, a nice safety feature if you walk your dog early in the morning or in the evening.
Which Snow Is Safe to Snack On?
Many dogs love to take a big chomp of snow, and if it’s fresh snow and eaten in small amounts, that’s probably OK. However, eating too much snow can trigger vomiting and lower core body temperature, making it harder for the dog to stay warm. Don’t let them eat or play in snow piles pushed from the street by a snowplow, as this “dirty snow” could be contaminated by salt, gravel, ice melt chemicals, antifreeze or other harmful substances found on the road.
Indoor Exercise Can Be Fun, Too!
Exercise is important, even in winter, but some days may be too cold to safely walk for very long or at all. Dogs with medical conditions, like arthritis, may also be uncomfortable in the damp and cold and should remain inside during cold weather. If the weather is frigid, consider taking a shorter walk or trying some indoor exercises instead. Both of you can do laps around the house, try a staircase workout (unless your dog has joint or balance issues) or play some indoor games of fetch or tug-of-war. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could build an obstacle course with household objects (e.g., a tunnel made from boxes) or set up a scavenger hunt using your dog’s favorite treats or toys.
Keeping up daily exercise during colder weather can help prevent your dog from gaining winter weight and will also keep them mentally stimulated. Just remember to keep their paws clean, their body warm and to continue with daily exercise even if outside feels like you’re living at the North Pole.
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