Despite their furry coats, in extreme cold, dogs can get hypothermia and frostbite. Even if the weather isn’t cold enough to be dangerous, your dog may be reluctant to go out for a wintery walk. But you still want to keep them active and happy. Here are seven things it’s good to know about walking your dog in cold weather.
1. How cold is too cold?
Generally, dogs with long and double coats can be ok in temperatures as low as -9°C. For short-haired dogs, this is around -4°C.
Puppies and young dogs, older dogs and dogs that are naturally less active find it harder to cope with cold temperatures. If your dog suddenly seems to struggle more in the cold weather, do talk to your vet.
Watch out for signs that your dog is getting cold. They can be whining, shivering, and their ears may feel cold. They may also seem more anxious or stop or lay down when out walking.
Hypothermia is dangerous and you need to act quickly and contact your vet. Signs to look out for – lethargy, shaking, stiff muscles, quickened heart rate followed by a slowing heart rate, and dilated pupils. Do not use heat pads and hot water bottles to try and raise their temperature too quickly. Seek medical help urgently.
In minus temperatures, popping out in the garden to go to the toilet is probably fine for most dogs, but you may need to get your boots on and go out with them to encourage them.
Keeping them moving when it’s cold will help them to maintain their body temperature. And if you think your dog is going to want to go for a swim in cold weather, it’s best to keep them on the lead. Frozen water is especially dangerous but also deep snow that you can’t see.
2. Which breeds struggle the most in the cold?
Dogs with double coats like Labradors, Huskies, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are made for colder weather.
Breeds like Whippets, Greyhounds, Beagles and Dalmations, with short hair and no undercoat, will feel the cold more. Smaller and short-legged breeds like Chihuahuas, Dachshunds and Italian Greyhounds understandably may not want to step foot outside in the cold!
Unsurprisingly, overseas rescue dogs from warm climates may also find the extreme cold particularly unpleasant.
3. Does my dog need a coat?
Short-haired and smaller dogs are most likely to benefit from coats and fleeces as the temperature drops. As with any new piece of equipment, introduce it positively. You can use treats to encourage them to put their head through the garment rather than you trying to put it on your dog. You may also need to get them comfortable with the sound of clips or Velcro before you put the garment on.
Watch the advance forecast and perhaps postpone a trip to the groomer and keep your dog’s coat longer when they need it. You may need to up the home grooming time to keep a longer coat mat-free. If your dog struggles with being groomed keep the sessions super short and pair them with some treats or a tasty lick mat.
When they come back in, dry your dog off if they’re damp to help them warm up. Drying coats can be useful.
4. Mind the paws
Grit, sand and salt is often on pavements, paths and roads when it’s icy and this can irritate their paws and skin. Also, make sure they don’t start licking their paws clean.
Wash or wipe their paws thoroughly (checking between toes), legs and belly with warm water as soon as you can to rinse off the salt and grit. Natural paw balm or a little coconut oil can be soothing for dogs with sensitive or cracked pads. Do rub it in as your dog may enjoy licking it off!
Snow can clump into balls sticking to their legs and the fur between their toes due to sweat glands; this can be painful. If this is a problem, paw wax can help protect their feet before going out. Booties are an option, but you will need to get your dog used to wearing them with positive training methods.
5. Warm up first
Like us, dogs need to warm up before any sudden exercise. Walking on the lead, changing up the pace from slow walking to a faster pace is great. If you get to the park in cold weather and they start running around, playing with another dog or perhaps getting snow or frost zoomies (totally a thing!), they could pull something or slip and injure themselves.
Despite most dogs having 4 legs, they are still prone to slipping on icy surfaces. In particular, take care of older dogs, and any dog with arthritis or joint and back conditions.
6. Food and Drink
Your dog will naturally be burning more calories to stay warm in the colder weather. Unless your dog is overweight, encourage them to eat a little more. Looking at their body index score (google search for an easy to follow chart) and checking their weight regularly at your vet is important all year round.
Dogs can still get dehydrated in cold weather. So make sure their water is kept clean and fresh at home. When you’re out and about, antifreeze is highly poisonous, but tasty to dogs – don’t let your dog drink from puddles and carry a water bottle with you.
Keep any chemicals at home, well out of reach. Snow globes, often contain antifreeze and, if dropped, are another hazard to keep well away from dogs.
7. Safety Pointers
With shorter daylight hours, you may be doing some walks in the dark. Reflective or lit or flashing collars, leads and coats are all sensible precautions to make your dog more visible.
Lastly, never leave your dog in a car in freezing temperatures.
If your dog is reluctant to go outside when it’s cold, wet or snowy, you can keep up activity and fitness levels by playing mental and physical games to play at home.
Niki’s best-selling book Stop Walking Your Dog includes 17 games and is available in paperback, Kindle and Audible versions.