If you live in a climate that experiences cold winter weather as we do here in Cleveland it can pose some real risks to your furry buddy while outside, however, most dogs will still need to have daily walks. Here are some actions that can be done to help keep your dog safe, comfortable, and healthy on their cold weather walks.
- Healthy feet are very important. Without them, your dog won’t make it out the front door. There are a lot of dangers in fall and winter, so make sure you check your dog's feet often and watch for conditions on the ground. It can be more difficult to spot things like broken glass or sharp objects in the dark, and salts or de-icers can burn your dog's paws or make them sick if they lick it.
- Always inspect your dog's feet when you get back from your walk. Watch for limping while out walking because your dog could have a cut or have something stuck between their foot pads. Consider using a paw balm to form a barrier that can protect your dog's feet from chemicals and help them handle abrasion better (like from snow or sand on the sidewalk). If the ground is excessively cold, boots can be beneficial. 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.
- 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. While you’re washing off their paws, get their undercarriage, too—especially if your dog is low to the ground. The same ice and dirt on their paws may be on the fur on their belly. And they may lick themselves clean there, too
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 shoveled walks and trails, and leave the snow jumping for shorter time periods of backyard play.
- 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 behavior out of boredom.
- Research what your dog's breed says about his cold-threshold, you should also pay attention to individual 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 he 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.
- Frostbite can be a real threat to pets, who, like kids, may be having too much fun in the snow to notice frostbite 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.
With just a few precautions and common sense, winter can still remain a great time to share the joy (and great exercise) of walking with your dog.