A walk in the snow with your dog is a fun wintertime activity, but winter also poses a lot of dangers to dogs. From snow and ice to cold winds, winter weather can put a dog at risk of injury, hypothermia, or even poisoning. Of course, your pooch still needs fresh air and exercise during the winter season, which is why it's important to do what you can to prevent these risks while you're out walking your dog. When you take the right precautions, your dog will stay healthy and happy all winter long.
If you have a particularly stubborn pooch who just won't wear boots, you can alleviate some of their winter discomfort by trimming the fur on their paws. Long fur collects moisture while walking, and this moisture will freeze into ice balls over time. These ice balls can be very painful when they form between your dog's pads or toes, but trimming will alleviate the problem. Try to cut the fur flush with the surface of your dog's foot or ask your groomer to handle it for you.
One of the deadliest winter dangers for dogs is antifreeze. Antifreeze may keep your car alive, but even a small amount can be enough to poison your dog. The worst part is that antifreeze has a very sweet and sugary smell, making pets naturally attracted to it. So, make sure you keep your antifreeze well away from your dog at all times, cleaning up any spills. If you do think your dog has consumed antifreeze, get them to a vet immediately for an antidote.
Antifreeze isn't the only deicer that can harm your dog during winter. Many cities and towns use rock salt to make snowy sidewalks safe for pedestrians, but those salt crystals can scratch or pierce a dog's delicate paw pads. Boots are a great way to protect against this damage, but you can also reduce the risk of injury by cleaning your dog's feet after walks. Just leave a warm bucket of water by the door before you leave, then thoroughly rinse your dog's paws in it when you get home.
Dogs may have their own fur coats, but many breeds benefit from an extra layer of warmth in the wintertime. Thankfully, the market is filled with winter coats made for dogs of all shapes and sizes. Miniature breeds like Pomeranians and lean breeds like greyhounds struggle to generate enough body heat, so they'll need to wear a coat during winter. The same goes for dogs with short legs and long-haired breeds with short haircuts. Senior dogs of any breed will also be more comfortable in a coat when the weather is cold.
When you're walking your dog during winter, the snow on the ground can start to freeze your dog's paws. Unsurprisingly, this can be very painful and uncomfortable, so dog boots are always a good idea in snowy weather. Many dogs won't naturally take to wearing boots, but you can convince them with some gentle training. Start by putting the boots on for a few minutes at a time, gradually moving up to wearing them during indoor play. After a few weeks, your dog should be happy to wear boots on their outdoor walks.
It's always a good idea to avoid walking on ice — for your sake as well as your dog's. Thin ice can easily break underneath you and saving both yourself and your dog from icy waters may be impossible. Even thick ice can be dangerous if you or your dog slip, and rough ice can cut into a dog's paw pads. It's best to plan a regular route that avoids frozen lakes and ponds during the winter.
The danger of ice is just one reason why you should keep your dog on a leash during wintertime walks. Even if your dog is usually cautious and responsible off-leash, winter weather can disorient them. Dogs can't see or smell as well during snowfall, so they can easily get lost if they're not leashed up. Some excitable dogs may even get themselves buried under snow piles if left unattended or unconfined.
Remember, senior dogs and puppies can be a lot more frail than adult dogs. While you can take some liberties with a healthy adult pooch, it's best to stick to these safety tips carefully if your dog is very young or old. Ideally, if your dog's age puts them at risk of health complications, you should stay indoors as much as you can during winter.
Sometimes, the weather gets so cold and harsh that it's best to stay indoors. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to keep your dog active in the house. Running up and down stairs may seem repetitive, but many dogs consider it a fun alternative to daily walks. If you have enough space, indoor fetch is another popular game. If not, look for automatic moving toys or treat balls to keep your dog entertained.
Shorter walks and less exercise outside may mean an adjustment to your dog's diet is needed. Less exercise while feeding your dog the same amount of food can lead to weight gain over the course of the season. Remember that when your dog is less active, they need fewer calories. Under veterinary guidance, reduce your dog's meal size slightly if their walks and exercise time is minimal, and try to keep unhealthy treats to a minimum.
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