Walking your dog in the winter can be a real chore. Wet and icy sidewalks and chilling winds aren’t exactly ideal for a stroll.
Not only is it uncomfortable for you, it can pose some real risks to your pup as well. However, daily exercise and walking is important for dogs, even in the winter months. Use this guide to keep you and your pet cozy and safe while you venture out on those winter treks.
Know Your Dog’s Limits
All dogs have a temperature threshold. This can vary by breed and also by individual dog. Watch your dog closely and pay attention to his or her clues. Your four-legged friend will let you know when they’ve had enough of the cold.
Signs that your dog is cold and ready to get back home include:
- Licking paws or lifting them excessively
- Begging at the door
Smaller breeds and dogs with less protective fur don’t tolerate the cold well, so never leave them outside unattended during the winter months. Even larger breeds that are more tolerant to the cold shouldn’t be left in the cold without a warm place to retreat to.
Check the Weather Before You Go
It’s important to plan ahead and be aware of what you’re getting yourself and your canine friend into before you step out for a jaunt. Check the weather forecast and keep an eye on that windchill. The winter weather is often colder than it might seem once you get out and start walking.
Stay out of the Snow
Your canine friend might enjoy playing in the snow for a few minutes, but if you’re headed on out on a walk it’s best if you avoid the snow. The cold snow will wet their fur, making them chill much faster than if they stay dry. Stick to the sidewalk and your outdoor jaunt will last much longer.
When dogs play in the snow, they tend to eat it. A lot of it. Eating too much snow can cause winter blap disease, an illness that occurs when dogs eat excessive amounts of snow and then vomit it up. Snow can have unknown chemicals and antifreeze in it, and no dog should be consuming that. These hazardous contaminants can cause upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea in some dogs.
You can avoid your dog eating snow by bringing along a bowl and a bottle of water to quench your pup’s thirst on longer walks.
Keep Your Dog Close
Dogs love to venture out and explore new areas. Winter isn’t the best time to do this, since it comes with many risks and hazards that aren’t present during the warmer months. Ice and snow pose many hazards to your pup, so keep a tight leash to avoid them venturing too far away from you.
Take a Route With Options
Bitter cold winter days are not the time for long walks with only one way back. Instead, choose a route that can be easily shortened if the conditions are unfavorable and you decide to return early. Save those long, meandering walks for the warmer days ahead.
Take Walks in the Daytime
Walking your dog in the early morning or late at night can be tempting, but not only is it much colder in the dark, it’s almost more dangerous because cars passing by can’t see you well. Stick to the hours when the sun is shining and there’s light outside.
Protect Your Pup's Paws
On especially cold and wet days, ice can easily accumulate on the hair between your pup’s toes. This can make it extremely painful for your dog to walk. You can avoid the ice accumulation by keeping the hair between the toes clipped short.
As an alternative, use boots to cover and protect your furry friend’s paws. Booties will protect your dog’s feet from the cold and also from the salt and chemicals that are used to keep ice from accumulating on streets and sidewalks.
The cold winter conditions can wreak havoc on your dog’s paws, and caring for them is important. After walking your dog, wipe their paws with a wet cloth to clear away any chemicals or salt they picked up from outside. Once they dry, apply a pet safe skin conditioner to keep their paws from cracking. Coconut oil is a good moisturizer that is non-toxic and safe for dogs.
If your dog’s paws do crack, treat the wound immediately. Clean the paw thoroughly and apply a first aid ointment for pets to prevent infection. Wrap the area, and limit your walks until the wound is healed.
You wouldn’t go out in the winter without a coat, and your dog probably doesn’t want to either. Your pup’s fur coat gives them a good amount of protection, but an added layer can help your dog feel more comfortable outside. Wearing sweaters takes practice for dogs, and some might tolerate it better than others. If you can get your dog to keep a sweater on, it can help act as a windbreaker and add extra insulation.
Seek out the Sun
The winter months can be dreary and depressing, even for your pup. If you live within driving distance of mild winter temperatures, consider taking a day trip (or turn it into a full weekend!) to get some sunshine and enjoy some warmer time outside. Put a dog seat cover over your back seat and bring your pup along for the ride. The sunshine and warmth will be rejuvenating for both of you!
Beware of Frostbite
Most dogs love playing in the snow, and they might have so much fun playing that they don’t notice when they get too cold. Limit your dog’s time outside and keep walks short. Check your dog’s ears, foot pads, nose and tail for frostbite when you get back inside.
Skin that has been frostbitten is cold, hard, and pale. It may turn red and puffy once it thaws a little bit. If you suspect frostbite has occurred, apply a warm rag to the area and wrap your dog in a blanket. If concerns persist, call your vet immediately.
Avoid Licking Metal Objects
We all know not to lick cold metal during the winter. The same is true four our four-legged friends. When you’re out walking your dog in the winter, avoid lamp posts, man-hole covers, metal plates and boxes, and anything else that’s metal. Not only can your pup’s tongue get damaged, these metal objects also carry a risk of electric shock.
Be sure to provide your dog with plenty of food and water before you leave so they are less tempted to lick and eat things while walking that might be hazardous to their health.
Pay Attention to Your Dog’s Food
Dogs' dietary needs often change during the winter months. If you aren’t taking them out on frequent walks, they won’t need as much food as usual. Pups that spend most of their time outside in the winter will need a boost in the amount of food they eat. Monitor your dog’s activity level and adjust their food accordingly so they can maintain a steady, healthy weight year round.
Be Mindful of Your Pup’s Health
The winter months can be rough for dogs, and the cold weather can aggravate certain conditions like arthritis. It’s a good idea to keep winter walks shorter for dogs that suffer from arthritis or other conditions that might be made worse by the cold.
If you notice your dog limping or seeming to be in pain, talk to your vet. He might recommend some supplements to alleviate pains associated with arthritis and other conditions that occur with aging. A daily complete multivitamin formulated specifically for dogs is also a good idea to maintain your dog’s health through the winter and all year long.
Look for Alternate Ways to Exercise
Walking your dog during the winter isn’t always feasible, but it’s still important for them to have plenty of exercise. Dogs that don’t get enough exercise in the winter are more prone to destructive behaviors, depression, weight gain, and muscle loss.
Look for a pet-friendly indoor walking area, or plan some at-home exercise time for your pup. Here’s some indoor exercise games that you can play in your own home with your furry friend:
- Create an indoor obstacle course
- Play fetch or tag on the stairs
- Invite kids or other dogs to play with your pup
- Use a treadmill if you have it
- Practice training your dog to sit, roll-over, lay down etc.
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