Well, it appears winter has arrived. Burr!!!
Each year when the first dusting of snow arrives we start getting a lot of questions at the shelter about winter dog walking safety. How cold is too cold? Does my dog need boots? For the answers to these questions and many more, keep reading!
How cold is too cold to walk the dog?
This is an age-old question. Unfortunately it’s also not the easiest to answer. Different breeds of dogs will have very different tolerances to snow and cold. If you have a husky there is a pretty good chance you don’t have to worry much about the cold, whereas a chihuahua may be trying to figure out how to borrow your credit card to book a tropical vacation as soon as the mercury starts to drop. Knowing a little bit about the breed of animal you have will give you some hints about whether or not they can tolerate the cold.
Generally animals with thick coats are much more hardy in cold weather, but there are also individual differences. If your dog has arthritis or back/neck problems, they may get a bit sore as the temperature drops. If you are concerned that cold weather is causing problems with your pet, we recommend booking an appointment with your veterinarian.
OK, so how do you tell if it’s too cold? Well if your dog is holding their paws up or shivering they are too cold and would probably rather be elsewhere. If your dog is running in circles, leaping into snow banks or, like my dog right now, using their face as a snow plow, then they probably like the snow and are perfectly happy playing in it.
Do dog boots work?
If your dog has been trained to wear boots, they can be helpful. If your dog has not been trained to wear boots then probably not. Boots can be distracting and annoying to a dog that isn’t used to them, so if you do decide to use boots a slow and positive introduction to them is vital!
If you are not using boots for your dog then some extra vigilance is needed in the winter time. Many types of ice melting chemicals are toxic and can also cause burns to your dog’s paw pads. When encountering possible ice melt on walks, encourage your dog to walk in the snow or (if you have a small dog) consider picking them up and lifting them over the patches of ice melt. When you return from winter walks, be sure to wipe your dog’s paws well to keep them from licking any salt/ice melt off their feet. If you are purchasing ice melt for your own property, invest in a pet-friendly version! Pet friendly ice melt won’t burn paws and is non-toxic.
What about a coat? Does my dog need one?
If you have a small dog or a dog that gets cold easily then a jacket could be a great idea. Choose a jacket that is the right size and one that doesn’t restrict your pet’s movement.
What other winter hazards could my dog face outside?
Antifreeze. Just a few sips of antifreeze can be lethal to a pet, so keeping this winter chemical far away from curious noses is an absolute must. If you are purchasing antifreeze, look for brands that have bittering agents added. Antifreeze is naturally sweet, so some companies now add these bittering agents to prevent pets from drinking it.
How can I make winter safer for my dog?
Great question! Here are a few suggestions
- Use pet friendly ice melt to prevent burns and accidental poisonings
- Keep antifreeze and other winter chemicals far away from curious paws
- Watch your pet outside. If they are lifting paws or shivering, bring them in.
- Shovel a clear path for ‘potty time’ when it gets really cold. If possible, locate this space close to the door to minimize the time your dog spends outside in very cold weather, especially if you have a small dog.
- Keep your pet on leash (except in off leash areas). Remember: slippery roads means cars cannot stop as fast and it only takes a split second for a dog to investigate a dangerous winter chemical. Keep Fido on leash for safety.
- Invest in a warm jacket for your pet if they get cold easily
- Keep wind warnings and frostbite warnings in mind when making decisions about walks. As the mercury drops it may be better to go on multiple short walks instead of one long one.