You either love it or hate it, winter! The air is freezing, the wind is chilling and the dreaded snow… It can be uplifting and beautiful but it can make walking our dogs unpleasant and even dangerous. With our dogs giving us those puppy eyes wanting to go out, do you find yourself asking if it’s safe enough?
Is it too cold for my dog’s paws?
Dog paws are weatherproof. They have a thick layer of fatty tissue that protects our furry friend’s feet from freezing in cold temperatures. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean they can always handle extreme weathers with hot or freezing pavements. When the pad gets cold, the arteries within the foot transfer the cold blood back to the body where it is then warmed up. This fascinating bodily process has led scientists to believe that our canine companions first evolved in colder climates.
Every dog is different, meaning there’s no exact temperature at which it becomes too cold to walk them. Some dogs might be better equipped for lower temperatures if they are larger or have a longer, thicker coat. Certain dogs have adapted over the years to the climate they’re in, such as huskies, and they’ve been bred to withstand temperatures as low as -60!
Most of the time, an owner’s judgement is best, so make sure you get to know your dog and their tolerances well. It’s important to remember that elderly dogs and puppies are generally much more susceptible to the dangers of the cold and are more vulnerable to conditions like hypothermia, so you should be careful walking them in winter.
What are the signs of hypothermia?
With mild hypothermia your dog is likely to be shivering and appear lethargic. As the hypothermia increases in severity the other symptoms become evident. Your dog becomes increasingly unresponsive as his or her body goes into heat conservation mode. At this time your dog’s focus will be on keeping their vital organs working by restricting the blood flow from all other parts of the body. If it’s not treated, hypothermia can be fatal.
Look out for…
- stiff muscles
- pale or grey gums
- stumbling or lack of coordination
- fixed and dilated pupils
- low heart and breathing rates
- or even coma
What is the treatment for hypothermia?
Mild hypothermia can be reversed by getting back in a warm environment and wrapping your dog with a blanket until the shivering stops.
Hypothermia that has dropped the dog’s temperature to the 90–94-degree range will need rewarming methods. Water bottles filled with warm water placed around your dog will deliver a safe warm heat source. Stay away from heating pads as it’s easy to burn your dog’s skin.
It’s recommended that you take your animal to your local vet or veterinary emergency service for observation and/or treatment if you need to treat for hypothermia. Severe hypothermia requires immediate veterinary intervention. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to reverse the damage at this level of hypothermia, but we can hope for the best.
How do you keep your dog warm while out walking?
When the weather gets colder, let your dog's winter coat grow. Short-haired breeds, puppies or old dogs might need a winter dog coat. If you’re walking when it’s dark, make sure your dog is visible with a flashing collar or high-vis jacket. Barking Bags now have a range with reflective straps to keep the dog’s walker safe too.
We humans use warm winter boots to protect our feet, and dog boots can be used to protect your pet’s feet in just the same way. They minimise contact with harsh salt or chemicals and prevent snow, ice, and salt or sand from getting lodged between their toes.
While boots are the safest option, it may take your dog some time to adjust to them. Start by allowing them to walk around the house or yard while wearing boots and be sure to reward with dog treats as you go! Giving them a tasty treat after you put on their boots helps them associate good things with their new footwear.
If your dog struggles with wearing boots or can’t adjust to walking normally. You might find it easier applying Vaseline or a paw balm such as Musher’s Secret as it helps create a barrier that prevents snow, ice, and salt from getting between your pup’s toes. The balm or Vaseline also keeps their paw pads hydrated. Just be sure to have a towel handy when you get back inside to wipe it off!
How do you introduce a coat to your dog?
Dogs can sometimes find it difficult having things placed over their heads and around their bodies. If your dog has never worn a coat or harness before, it’s important to introduce it carefully.
We’ve found some simple steps to try that might help.
1. Before you try and put the coat on your dog, lay it on the ground and put a few tasty treats on it so your dog can sniff and investigate it.
2. Once your dog is familiar with the coat, lift it and feed your dog a treat through the opening. Gradually move your hand a little further back to encourage your dog to move their nose and mouth through the opening to get their treats.
3. Once your dog is comfortable with putting their head through the coat, you can place it on their body, continuing to give them treats. If at any point your dog is uncomfortable or retreats from the coat, remove it, and feed them anyway. Try again another time and take it back a step if necessary.
Once your dog is comfortable having the coat put on, they'll need to learn to get used to the feel of it and how it affects their natural movement. Scattering food and letting them move around to find the treats can help to distract and reward them. If this happens every time their coat goes on, they'll soon look forward to wearing it at walkies time!
Be seen when walking in the winter evenings
With it getting dark round 4pm in the UK, it’s unavoidable walking in the dark with our dogs. Being seen and safe is important.
You can get hi-vis coats and a flashing light that attaches to your dog’s harness which helps to make you more visible.
And remember, here at Barking Bags, our new exclusive range has the hi-vis straps to help you keep safe and seen in the dark.
After walk care
A snowy climate also means more people will be using anti-freeze chemicals and salting pavements and roads. Salt can irritate you pooch’s paws and legs, while anti-freeze is highly poisonous. Your dog is likely to lick its paws and legs after being outside in this weather, and ingestion of too much salt or any antifreeze can be dangerous for your dog.
You should thoroughly clean your dog’s paws, legs, and tummies after each walk, to remove any hazardous chemicals and irritants. Barking Bags have created a small paw wiping mitt, small enough to fit into your dog walking bag so that you always have it handy, and it can be used as soon as you move inside or get into the car.
Finally, some Barking Bags top tips to have hassle-free winter walking your furry friend!
Keep your dog on a lead if it's snowing
There may be deep patches, or the snow may cover up areas that aren’t safe.
Make sure your dog is wearing a collar, an ID tag and is microchipped
It's important to ensure your microchipping database is up to date with your address and contact details.
Make sure you wipe your dog’s legs, paws, and tummies after a walk
The grit from the roads and dampness from rain or snow can irritate their skin.
Don’t let your dog walk on frozen ponds
The ice may not be thick enough to take their weight. If your dog does fall through the ice never be tempted to go in after them. If possible, encourage them to swim back to you and call the emergency services.
Antifreeze is highly poisonous but tasty to dogs
Keep it well out of their reach and mop up any spills!
Think about your own footwear when you're going out with your dog in winter, and make sure you're as visible as your dog.
Take shorter more regular walks
That way there is less chance that you and your dogs will succumb to the cold
Keep yourself warm too
Keep a spare pair of gloves in your bag. When you set out it may look deceptively warm but your fingers will feel the cold when holding a lead. Your barking bag is larger enough to carry a small flask with a warming drink
Regularly check your dog's lead, collar and harness
Make sure they’re all functioning safely and won’t get damaged by winter weather. If it's extra cold, it can be very difficult to do up lead clips and attach them to collars and harnesses so doing this indoors is sensible. Wet weather may also make metal clips rust.