Dogs, just like their humans, enjoy the snow and the playfulness it brings. Exercise is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Taking your dogs out for a walk every day is still crucial, even if there are snow and ice on the ground.
There are dangers to be aware of for yourself and your dog. Just like in summer, your dog’s paws, age, coat, and conditions will have an impact. We created this ultimate guide to walking your dog in the snow, so you will be prepared and able to protect your dog in the cold weather.
You wouldn’t go out in the snow and ice without socks and shoes or weatherproof boots. You shouldn’t send your pup out without proper protection either. The first thing you need to be aware of is the temperature and weather conditions outside.
According to the veterinarians at PetMD.com: “In general, cold temperatures should not become a problem for most dogs until they fall below 45°F, at which point some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable. When temperatures fall below 32°F, owners of small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, and very young, old, or sick dogs should pay close attention to their pet’s well-being. Once temperatures drop under 20°F, all owners need to be aware that their dogs could potentially develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia and frostbite.”
Before you open the door and let your dog go, there are special precautions you need to be aware of. You also need to ensure your dog’s paws are ready to confront the cold conditions.
Clipping your dog’s nails is always necessary for comfort and safety. In the winter, it is even more crucial. When the nails grow long, they force the toes to separate which will allow for ice, snow, and chemicals to get embedded in the paws causing discomfort or damage.
Just as important as the nails is the fur that grows around the pads and between the toes.
Clipping the fur around the paw and between the toes is important. You should ensure that the fur is even with the paw and not touching the ground. This will prevent moisture wicking into the paws as well as ice balls forming around the pads causing discomfort.
By making sure the nails and fur are trimmed you will help prevent ice accumulation. This will cut down on the effects of the cold which could cause frostbite, tissue damage or general discomfort.
Your four-legged family member needs more attention and care in the winter. Being aware of the condition of his paws will go a long way to treating and preventing pain or worse. There are products you can buy or things you can do on your own to ensure his paws stay happy and healthy.
Products for Paws
There are some products on the market to help protect your dog’s paws in cold weather. One of the most common products for walking your dog in the snow are booties for dog paws.
These boots, or socks, allow for traction in snow and ice while also providing warmth and protection from cold and wet conditions. You can find these boots and socks readily available online and in pet stores.
You can also find balms and salves to apply to your furry friend’s paws. Products such as Mushers Secret or Bag Balm are easily found in drug and pet stores. These wax based treatments will provide a protective barrier between your dog’s paws and the elements.
You should take caution when using products on the pads of their feet. Applying balms or dressing them in their boots indoors will make their feet slippery and they could fall on tile or linoleum surfaces.
We advise that you apply the balms or socks near the door and on a pad, blanket or carpet. This will help traction and give a shorter distance to being outside.
Keeping your Dog Warm
Many factors concern your furry friends’ warmth in colder weather. Natural and external factors such as weather conditions, environment, and the coat of your pup all have a factor in their warmth.
You should be aware of all of these factors before sending your dog outdoors. Dogs don’t feel temperature changes as much or as accurately as their humans do. This does not mean that they are any less susceptible to climate though.
Long term exposure can affect our four-legged friends, and it can take longer for them to recover.
Famous dog trainer and expert Cesar Millan says on his website: “While the condition can affect dogs and humans, it can affect dogs more severely both because they are generally smaller than people and because a dog’s normal body temperature is higher than ours — in fact, when a human’s body temperature reaches what is normal for a dog, this is called having a fever, and the high end of normal for a dog would put a human in the hospital.
That normal range for dogs is 101 to 102.5°F (38.3 to 39.2°C). If a dog’s temperature drops to the human normal range of 97.6 to 99.6° F (36.4 to 37.6°C), this is actually the danger point when you should seek medical attention.”
Fur plays a critical role in body temperature regulation. Every aspect of their coat and condition comes into play:
- Coat thickness. Thicker coated and double layered coat dogs are more cold-resistant than dogs with thin coats.
- Coat length. The length of the coat also comes in to play. Longer coats will provide more warmth absorption than short coats will.
- The color of the coat. Darker fur will absorb and retain heat easier and more efficiently than light colors.
- Skin color. Dogs with a lighter or pink base skin color will lose heat a lot faster than dogs with a darker skin color.
- Dog weight. Heavier dogs have better natural insulation than thinner pups. Keeping an eye on your dog’s weight is crucial.
- Age and health of your beloved pet. Older dogs and new pups are more susceptible to cold weather conditions. Dogs suffering or recently over illness can also have a higher risk in cold weather.
Understanding the type and condition of your dog’s fur will better enable you to care for a pet when the temperature drops properly. You should never shave your dog’s fur in the winter. A trim for long haired pooches should be done though, as this will prevent snow and ice buildup on their fur that can cause burns and skin conditions.
Brushing often will remove dead fur and stimulate natural oils that will help insulate your dog against cold wins and moisture. You should also avoid numerous bathing in the colder months. The more you wash your dog, the less buildup of these oils and skin conditioners they will have.
Trying to maintain body heat will cause your dog to burn more energy. Dehydration is common in the winter. You should ensure your dog has extra food and constant access to water. This will prevent dehydration and adverse effects from the cold.
When you need extra help, there are numerous products you can buy or make yourself that will aid in the comfort of our best friends.
Products to Buy
Aside from booties and socks, if your dog is smaller, lighter in color or thinner in coat, you can also purchase a jacket blanket. These jackets wrap your dog, just like your coat does for you, and will help fight against cold winds, moisture and long term exposure to the elements.
You can find these jackets at any pet store or pet supply vendor online. When making a purchase, especially for online buys, you need to ensure the jacket will fit correctly. Measure your dog and follow the charts on the online vendor sites to be sure the fit is correct.
A combination of boots and a jacket may be in order if your dog is in the danger areas because of age, health conditions or fur type.
Do It Yourself
If you are thrifty, or crafty, you can make your own jackets or boots. Making use of your sewing machine, you can easily craft a warm jacket for your dog.
You can find tons of ideas and patterns to use on Pinterest. If you want to spend a tiny bit of money, you can head to your local fabric shop and pick up a Simplicity or McCall pattern for dog jackets.
Recycling your old jackets and sweaters are also a good idea. If your child has out grown a sweatshirt, you can easily turn it into a dog sweater that will help prevent chills and cold weather effects.
The designs, styles and materials are completely left up to you. You just need to make sure of the fit and the coverage. The style isn’t as important as warmth and comfort for your dog. Have fun creating different styles for various outdoor adventures.
Keeping Your Dog Safe
The most important aspect of prevention is understanding. Knowing that your dog is susceptible to cold is key. Dogs are smart. They are also hardy. You are still their pack leader, though. It is up to you to ensure the safety of the pack.
When walking your dog in the snow, there are extra precautions you need to take.
Walking Your Dog in the Snow
The snow brings a lot more dangers and unsafe conditions to your dog. We have talked about prevention and things to do before you leave the house. Now we will cover what you can do while out on the walk or playing in the yard.
First, you must maintain control at all times. Being alert to the surroundings your dog is in and where they are headed is crucial. You not only need to be aware of the immediate environment but also what lies ahead. Environmental dangers can hide under the snow: holes, tree branches, and even other animals are easily missed by your dog in the snow.
You should also be alert to the temperature, the wind chill and how long you have been outside. The general rule of thumb is that if you are cold, so is your dog. Pay as much attention to the weather as you do the environment around your dog.
Your dog will take as much room as you allow. The length of your lead will play a large part in their distance from you. The further away they are the less control you will have. You should refrain from tugging hard on the lead as the dog will pull back, giving you less control.
Go slow. When you go out for a walk, you aren’t in a race. It should be enjoyed and under your speed and control. If you go to fast you will have less time to react to something that goes wrong.
Watch for ice patches, puddles, possible holes, branches, and anything that could tangle, cut or harm your dog. You need to be even more aware than you are in warmer months and better conditions.
What to Watch For
No one knows what is going on with their body than your dog does. You need to be able to be on the lookout for visual clues. Since our furry little pets can’t talk to us to say what the problem is, they will react.
You need to watch for physical cues such as ice buildup or snow balls on their fur. If you see these building up, you need to stop the walk and remove them. Bringing a towel and a water bottle filled with warm (not hot) water will quickly remove snow and ice buildup on the fur. Make sure you keep the fur as dry as possible after melting the ice and snow.
Your dog has certain characteristics as well. You need to be clued in on these. If they start walking at slower speeds or taking more frequent and longer breaks, it could be a sign it is time to go in.
Marking and regular bathroom routines are also something to watch. Your dog can easily become dehydrated and extra evacuation during extended outings could cause this to develop further.
Limping is important to watch out for. If your pup starts limping or avoiding using one or more paws, you need to investigate. Perhaps there is snow or ice causing discomfort by spreading out the toes. It is even possible that frostbite is setting in.
Lastly, you should be alert to neighbors or city officials using salt or deicer to melt snow and ice. This is highly toxic to a dog and is quickly absorbed through the pads on their feet. You can find pet-friendly ice removal crystals that are safe for dogs. You should use this in your yards and drives and ask your neighbors to do the same.
Once the walk is over, your job as pack leader is still active. You need to take proper aftercare of your dog to ensure there are no lingering effects of the cold.
You should immediately remove the boots and jackets as well as the lead. Drying your dog is very important. If they are allowed to remain wet, the chill will last longer and prevent their core temperature from rising efficiently.
Check your best friend over carefully to remove and icy build up on their fur. You should also check their feet carefully. Do not rub their feet. If they have sore pads or feet that are too cold, rubbing vigorously could cause more damage.
Be on the lookout for raw pads or discoloration in the feet and skin. These can be signs of both hypothermia and frostbite. If you are ever in doubt, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
If your pup is just cold, you can wrap them in towels or a blanket and put warm (not hot) water bottles near them. Once your dog has raised their core temperature, the will return to their normal, happy and playful selves.
Keeping yourself safe
Just as important to your dog’s safety and comfort, your safety should be high on your priority list. Just like your dog, your comfort and warmth are important. To be able to monitor your dog correctly and stay aware of their surroundings, you first need to be able to monitor yours.
Prevent Chills and Slips
It begins before you head out the house. The proper clothing and protection are essential. Avoiding body core temperature drops is crucial. Wear head and ear protection, warm, wind blocking coats or jackets and protective weather-appropriate footwear.
You are just as easily able to slip and fall as your dog is. Be aware of your footing, stay dry and stay warm. Using the proper footwear that is rated for snow, ice and traction are important. As long as you are sure footed, you will be able to maintain control of your pets.
Your attention is needed in your environment and surroundings. If your head is buried in a cell phone or the clouds, you won’t be able to spot dangers before they become an issue. When you are walking your dog in the snow, you need to be aware where you are stepping as well as where your dog is.
You (generally speaking) are larger and weigh more than your dog. Just because that patch of ice held up when the pooch crossed it, doesn’t mean it will hold up when you do. If you aren’t paying attention, it could spell disaster for you or your dog.
As we mentioned before, if you are cold, your dog is most likely cold as well. Pay attention to your body temperature and head inside before it becomes an issue. Also, monitor the wind. The clothing you wear will prevent your body from feeling the full effects of the wind.
However, the wind can cut through fur quickly and cause your dog to become very cold very fast. Be aware of the conditions and keep an eye on your four-legged baby for signs it’s time to end the walk.
If you become distracted, then accidents are more likely to happen. You should be vigilant about watching for dangers and slip and fall points. Use voice commands as well as hand signals and lead control to walk your dog around such hazards.
If your attention is somewhere else, you can’t take the proper control over the walk. As the pack leader, it is your responsibility to make sure everyone returns home safe, happy and ready to go again next time.
Becoming distracted is easy. Phone calls, neighbors trying to have a conversation as you pass by even things going on over head such as planes or flocks of birds. These, and countless others can easily take your attention away from what is most important: Your dog.
Cold weather, snow and ice does not mean you must stay inside or keep your dog from enjoying your daily outings. If you take the proper precautions and know what to watch out for, you will be prepared for any situation:
Make sure your dog has enough food and water daily. This will prevent dehydration over the winter months. You should give your dog the advantage in warmth and traction with dog socks or boots and jackets.
Be sure to keep up on the visual clues your dog is sending. Limping, walking slower not using the bathroom can all be clues that something is not right.
You should maintain control, attention and alertness at all times to ensure the safety of you and your pet.
Take as much care of yourself as you do your pet. If you aren’t prepared to be out in the elements, you won’t be able to be attentive to your dog. Also, take extra care when the walk is over and you are back inside to return the core temperature to normal and check for signs of damage.