Are you and your dog battling winter weather? As wave after wave of snowstorms continue to blanket so many areas, dogs—and dog lovers—get restless. In an effort to continue with their daily walks and exercise routine, many dog lovers resolve to continue their outings in spite of the winter weather.
When is it safe to walk your dog during extreme winter weather?
As with many questions involving dogs, your first step is to consult with your veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association reminds dog owners that not only very old and very young pets can have a difficult time regulating their body heat. The AMVA says “Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes.” The AVMA also urges dog owners to remember that dogs with arthritis may have a more difficult time walking on snow and ice and, just like people with arthritis, are more prone to slipping and falling on the slippery surfaces.
Beyond age and health conditions, your dog’s ability to withstand the cold will vary with his coat and condition as well. A Husky will be far more tolerant of the cold than a Doberman. Dogs with short legs are also at extra risk since their bodies are far closer to (if not actually in) the snow.
Outfitting your dog with a winter coat can help conserve your dog’s body temperature but keep an eye on his ears which, because of their thinness, can be extra susceptible to frostbite as can his tail. Signs of frostbite include skin discoloration—a blue or gray tint, or if skin areas seem extremely cold to the touch.
Your dog’s paws are also at risk during the winter months. Bill Hanner from Canine Care Products, the makers of dog booties, explains that “chemicals used to melt snow and ice are toxic and you don’t want your pet licking them off his paws.” Hanner points out that a recent study revealed more than eight out of ten dog lovers don’t use booties on their dog’s feet—even though bare paws are exposed to dangerous de-icing chemicals and to ice and snow that can be painful as well.
Along with coats and booties, your dog’s winter weather walking ensemble should also include a leash and perhaps even a GPS tracking unit. While it’s tempting to allow your dog to run off-leash and work off some of that pent-up energy, if there are partially frozen ponds in the area, tragedy can occur. Also, because snow makes it more difficult for dogs to find their scent trail, it can be easy for dogs to become disoriented and lost in the snow. A GPS unit on your dog’s collar can help track your dog using your smartphone.
And just how long is too long to stay out on a winter walk? Like so many things involving our dogs, the answer lies at the other end of the leash. Watch for any sign of shivering or discomfort in your dog then head back to the house to warm up and enjoy some indoor fun like interactive toys and games!