With cold weather months rolling in, you might be wondering how your pet feels about their cold-weather walks these days, or how your pet tolerates cold feet so well without doggie rain boots or other doggy shoes. Just like humans, pets take time to acclimate to colder weather and regulate their body temperature. Some pets require special attention during the winter months, especially after exposure to winter weather. While most winter walks don’t require dog booties for snow or dog rain boots throughout the winter months, some actually do.
We’ll tell you how to keep your animals warm, what discomforts pets during colder weather walks, and how to keep your pet’s paws safe from cold weather dangers. Ice balls on puppy paws, chemicals from ice melt products, and ill-managed health conditions can be threats to pet safety in the winter time. Here’s everything you need to know about wintertime pet safety and your most frequently asked wintertime pet care FAQs.
When Does a Dog Need Shoes for Wintertime Walks?
As mentioned in our intro, sometimes dogs DO need to wear shoes in the winter, particularly if you live in a climate that blankets your walk route with snow and ice for the majority of the winter. But since most dogs do not need to wear shoes on winter walks, we’ll come back to that.
On most walks, most dogs do not need snow boots for dogs. This is especially true if they have a balanced diet, regular exercise, and their social and emotional needs are met. Dogs’ paws are designed with a thick outer layer of skin meant to protect them from cold exposure and some sharp objects as they walk. They also have fur in between their toes to help hold in the heat and maintain body temperature in the cold.
However, different dog breeds are prone to anatomical differences that might leave them less prepared for your cold weather climate. Some dogs have softer feet and less fur insulating the toes. If your dog is a smaller breed, it might require additional cold weather gear or rain booties for dogs.
Proper care is absolutely crucial for dogs’ paws if you decide not to cover their feet on icy wintertime walks. Without proper care, pet paws can become dry, chapped, irritated, itchy and painful. Not providing snow or rain boots for dogs and not properly caring for your dog’s feet in the winter can lead to bleeding, chemical burns from sidewalk ice melt products, and further pet health complications.
If you choose not to invest in dog snow boots for wintertime walks, it is important to pat your dog’s feet dry each time you come in from a walk. If there is any salt or residue on your pet’s feet, gently wash them with a cool to warm towel and thoroughly dry them after each walk. Check for ice accumulation in the fur, cuts, irritation or dryness, or changes in your dog’s gait that could indicate paw discomfort. Keeping your dog’s feet clean, chemical free, and dry will help maintain proper paw health for your pet throughout the winter.
If at any time you notice your dog paying special attention to their paws, walking differently, avoiding putting pressure on one or more paws, or bleeding, care for their paws immediately and cover their feet for later walks. Limit outdoor exposure to shorter walks (10-15 minutes) until their paws recover.
Preparing Your Dog For Winter Walks
Lots of dogs require additional preparation for winter weather. If your dog is smaller and their belly frequently brushes against the snow on walks, that little belly will need post-walk care, too. Clean and wipe off wet bellies after each walk and thoroughly dry them to prevent cold weather injuries and chemical irritation. Pets of this size often require a jacket or other outer wear to help maintain body temperature on even shorter walks.
If your dog has any underlying health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and some hormonal disorders, they may have a harder time regulating their body temperature on colder weather walks. Keep an eye on your pet’s behavior and pay attention to body language that indicates discomfort, like shivering, shaking, frequently turning back toward home, or holding paws off the ground. If your dog is having difficulty adjusting to colder outdoor temperatures, make wintertime walks shorter and more frequent so that their needs are met but they’re not struggling to get comfortable. In addition, check in with your veterinarian before extreme winter weather rolls in, to make sure your pet is fully prepared before the cold arrives.
Never cut your pet’s hair short in the winter time. Short-haired dogs have a harder time acclimating to winter weather, and often need an added layer of outdoor protection. Long haired dogs need their coats to help them stay warm.
Trimming hair between the toes, however, is important. If your dog frequently has trouble walking or removing ice balls from their paws after their walk, trimming the fur on their paws can help prevent that. Notice where snow and ice tend to build and keep fur trimmed in those areas. Remember to always thoroughly dry your pet’s feet.
Remember that all pets feel the extremes of winter cold, and it’s never safe or appropriate to leave your pet outside during winter snow storms, cold weather, or cold weather rains. Always make sure if your dog goes outside alone they have shelter and a dry space to retreat to.
Other Pet Safety Tips For Winter
There are other winter safety considerations to take into account, including some that may not be obvious. For example, protecting your pet from other chemicals in the snow and ice might protect their life and their health. Antifreeze (like collant) is toxic for animals, including dogs, and many cars drip antifreeze while they run. Check the areas that your pet explores for other harmful chemicals and properly clean even small chemical spills.
With that being said, there are sometimes chemicals in the substances we use to melt snow and ice. Check the label of your ice melt for pet safety guidelines and chemical components. What you may think of as “rock salt” could actually be a chemically engineered product that can cause pain and irritation for pet paws.
Make sure that your pet always wears their collar with updated contact information or has a catalogued microchip. Pets that run away are more likely to become lost or disoriented during winter time because certain familiar neighborhood smells are buried under snow and ice. Cold weather and falling snow can also disorient your dog the way it can disorient a human traveling through it. Make sure if your pet gets out, she has a way home. To learn more about why your pet likes to run away, check out our recent blog posts.
How Long and How Often Can I Walk My Dog in Winter?
If your dog has been healthy throughout the year and is properly cared for, you should not be afraid to explore the outdoors with them, even in the winter. The amount and length of your wintertime dog walks should vary depending on outdoor conditions. Long walks should only be taken weather permitting, with appropriate warm-weather gear for both you and your dog. If you have a medium to large long-haired dog that likes winter weather, a pair of dog snow booties might be all you need for a beautiful winter weather hike. Pay attention to your dog’s signals and body language to see how much care they require in the cold.
How Important Are Wintertime Walks For My Dog?
Your dog thrives on outdoor activities and requires the same levels of exercise and stimulation year-round. Wintertime walks are important because not only are they great for your dog’s health, they’re great for yours too. Your pet also needs to be outside to relieve themselves, and changes in indoor temperatures might affect their bathroom schedule. Make sure your pet gets the wintertime walks and pet care they need this year.
I Hate the Cold. What Can I Do If I’m Having Trouble Getting out For Winter Walks?
Just like you, your pet might dislike the cold and snow too. Pay attention to your pet’s behavior to work out the best wintertime walking schedule you can, and make sure you’re both prepared and protected from the cold before you step out. Still can’t bring yourself to take that first crunchy step into the snow? That’s where we come in.
Our dog walkers know a thing or two about wintertime pet safety and how to make sure your pet gets the quality care and outdoor time they need. Give us a call or check out our services page to see how your trustworthy local pet-sitting service can provide winter time walks for your furry friend as well.