Cold Weather And Dog Walking
Some people might not think cold weather and dog walking go hand in hand. And while walking in extreme temperatures isn’t ideal, is it actually harmful for your dog? The short answer is maybe. The longer answer will depend on the specifics such as temperature, wind chill, ice/snow, and the type of dog you have. There are ways to safely walk your dog in colder temperatures. Read on to see when it is too cold to walk your dog and ways you can safely walk your dog in cold weather to avoid frostbite and hypothermia this winter and which ice melts to choose.
Dog Walking Safety In The Cold
Walking your dog in the cold weather might not sound like something you want to do. Blistering temperatures and wind that seems to go through you – yikes! Winter can be pretty, think freshly fallen snow, for example. It can also be a nice change of pace if you are sick of warmer temperatures. However, winter can be downright brutal at times. Maybe it’s me, but winter seems to be the longest season in the northeast. Summer seems to fly by, but winter just goes and goes…and goes! At times it seems impossible to safely walk your dog, but there are ways to do it.
Unless you have potty trained your dogs to use your bathroom (wouldn’t that be nice?), our dogs need to go outside in the winter. Additionally, our dogs need exercise in the winter. Yes, we can toss a tennis ball down the hall for our dogs to chase, but they really need to get outside for physical activity to keep them healthy and mentally balanced.
If you have a breed that is more susceptible to colder temperatures, think about investing in some doggie apparel. The clothing will keep your dog warm when they are outside in colder temperatures. It might take some getting used to (for them and you). However, it really is a good idea for smaller dogs and dogs with shorter fur.
These days, anything you can buy for yourself, is most likely available for your dog. It’s true! And it’s absolutely adorable. Who doesn’t love seeing a dog walking down the street in a cute sweatshirt or jacket? I certainly get a kick out of it. The clothing is not only cute, but it is actually functional like human clothing.
A winter coat for your dog will absolutely keep them warm. Further, it will actually keep them cleaner. If it’s raining or snowing, having a jacket will keep your dog much drier than without their outerwear. Not only does this keep their backs dry, but their bellies will be much drier and cleaner as well. Think about all the muck your dog picks up as they trudge through the yucky slush in the winter. With a jacket, shirt, or sweatshirt, their bellies will stay clean and dry! So don’t be embarrassed that you are “one of those pet owners,” the clothing for your dog is actually a must-have : )
Additional Safety Tips
Some additional winter safety tips for your dogs including feeding them more and shortening their exposure outside. Limiting their time outside seems to make sense, but feeding them more food??
Yes, feeding your dogs more in the winter can help them stay warm. It’s a random fact, but it can help. Dogs burn extra energy while they are trying to stay warm. Therefore, feeding them a little more during the colder months can give them the extra calories they need to make up for their enhanced metabolisms. Your dog likely won’t need an additional meal to supplement them. The more active your dog is, the more you should increase their food.
Further, you should make sure your dog has ample water available so that they stay well-hydrated. This will help reduce dry skin in the dry winter months. Additionally, you could add some oil to your dog’s dry food to keep their skin from drying out. Just a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil can help keep their coats nice and shiny and their skin silky smooth. And your dog will appreciate the treat, I’m sure!
Shorten Walks And Outside Exposure
While different breeds can handle temperatures differently, there is no magic number that designates when you can safely walk your dog in the cold. For example, a husky is a medium sized breed with a thick coat of fur who was bred to work in extremely cold temperatures. On the other hand, a chihuahua is a small breed with short hair and is more of a domesticated dog. The two breeds are complete opposites, therefore, one specific “safe” temperature will not suffice for keeping a chihuahua safe in the winter.
Because one size does not fit all in determining how cold is too cold to safely walk your dog in the winter, it is important to keep an eye on your dog and make adjustments when necessary. If your dog is used to going on 60 minute walks in warmer weather, it might make sense to shorten their walks to 30 minutes in the colder temperatures. Along those lines, if your dog is used to walking for 30 minutes at a time, you might consider shortening their walk to 15 or 20 minute walks. However, if you think your dog is hardy in cold temps, do what you think they can handle and keep an eye on them to be sure that they will be safe.
The Dangers Of Rock Salt
Rock salts (also known as sodium chloride) are dangerous to your pets, specifically dogs. While rock salt aids in melting ice and snow and is helpful to humans, it poses many problems to your pets. Minimizing these risks is essential in keeping your dog (and cat) in good heatlth.
Salt Burns To Dog Paws
Ice and snow is a hazard to humans as we can slip and fall easily on these slippery surfaces. For many years, we have relied on rock salt to speed up the melting process so that we can keep our steps, walkways, sidewalks, and streets ice-free. While rock salt is a great product for keeping humans safe, it is actually dangerous to our pets, specifically our dogs since they are typically walking outside more than cats.
When your dog steps on rock salt, the salt crystals attach to his/her paws which causes irritation and burning. I’m sure you have inadvertently walked your dog through rock salt and then heard your dog yelp in pain from the immediate burn. It’s the worst! If this happens and there is snow nearby, get their paws in the snow as soon as possible. This will help wash away the salt and alleviate the irritation. When you return home, make sure to thoroughly wash their paws to get all of the salt off.
Ingestion of Rock Salt by Pets
After walking your dog in the winter, it is important to clean their paws. While wiping their paws might be acceptable on dry days, if you think they might have walked through salted areas, make sure you clean their paws after a walk. Otherwise, your dog might take matters into his own hands and lick his paws clean. If your dog ingests significant amounts of rock salt, it is not only dangerous, it can be deadly.
High salt levels can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, disorientation, extreme thirst, or unusual salivating. Additionally, your dog could succumb to burns at their mouth, in the gastro-intestinal tract or get salt poisoning which is called sodium toxicosis which could lead to death. If you suspect your dog is experiencing symptoms like these, call your vet as soon as possible.
Pet Safe Ice Melt
A great way to avoid rock salt and still keeping your steps and walkways clear of ice is using a pet safe ice melt. *Disclaimer, no ice melts are completely safe for dogs, however, some are safer than others. Realistically, all ice melts are made of chemical compounds which are irritants to dogs if ingested and can cause gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea. Further, they can lead to paw irritation if exposed for prolonged periods of time and cause chemical burns.
Ethylene glycol-based ice melts can be considered pet friendly for your dog. However, that is the active ingredient as antifreeze, which is very deadly if ingested. The safest ice melts are the ones with a propylene glycol base. The downside of these ice melts is that they are not as effective as the ethylene glycol-based ice melts and rock salt. And it is worth noting that although propylene glycol base ice melts are safe for dogs, they are very dangerous to cats, if ingested.
Ideally, the best thing to do is to avoid ice melt, if possible. Keeping your steps and walkways clear with the old-fashioned way of shoveling or even snow blowing and using sand in lieu of salt will keep your dog’s paws free from chemicals.
If you live in an area that is icy or snowy in the winter, you could opt for some dog booties to keep your dog’s safe from the dangers of rock salt and ice melt. Although the dog booties might sound like a great idea to keep your dog’s paws clean and chemical free, it is likely that your dog will not see that the benefits outweigh the annoyance of wearing boots!
While your dog might not be excited about adding shoes to their wardrobe, there are ways to ease them into them. It is best to prepare your dog by trying them on in the house for short periods of time and giving lots of praise while your dog gets used to wearing them. Also, it is important to choose a waterproof boot that has a textured sole material, making it good for traction. The booties are foreign for dogs, making them feel comfortable walking on ice and snow is a must. If they were to slip while wearing booties, it would be unlikely that they would try them again.
Musher’s Wax or Musher’s Secret is a wax that you can apply to your dog’s paws to keep them safe from the winter elements such as ice, snow, ice melt, and rock salt. It is 100% natural which is great considering the chemicals that are found in all ice melts. It is a semi-permeable shield that allows your dog’s paws to breathe. Not only does it protect your dogs paws outside, it actually soothes and relieves dry and cracked paws. Also, it can prevent snowballs from accumulating between your dog’s toes – just rub some musher wax in between and around the pads to keep them snowball-free.
Further, it is safe to use the musher wax on their snout, elbows, and even ‘hot spots’. It’s like a miracle solution for dogs! This amazing pet product can be used year round to keep your dog’s paws moisturized and free of cracks. Once applied, it will absorb in a few minutes. And once absorbed, it will not come off on floors, carpeting, or clothing.
Hypothermia in Dogs
Walking your dog on leashed walks for 30 minutes or less in your neighborhood in the winter is likely completely safe. However, it is possible that a dog could develop hypothermia in extremely cold temperatures or if they got wet or possibly fall through ice into a lake or pond. If you think your dog could be at risk for hypothermia, keep an eye on them.
Here are hypothermia symptoms:
- Violent Shivering
- Weak Pulse
- Stiff Muscles
- Difficulty Breathing
- Reduced or lack of appetite
- Cardiac Arrest
Wrap your pet in a warm blanket or coat (you can warm blankets and coats in the dryer for a few minutes).
- Call your vet immediately
- Bring your dog into a warm room
- Give your dog 1-2 teaspoons of honey or sugar mixed in warm water. If your dog is too weak to drink, put the honey or sugar directly on their gums. This help help give them an immediate energy boost.
- Wrap your dog in a warm blanket.
- Do not use warming devices such as hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets on a hypothermic pet. This could burn them. Additionally, it could cause blood vessels to dilate, thus, compromising circulation to their organs.
Frostbite In Dogs
While it is unlikely that your dog will develop frostbite, it can happen. Like humans, frostbite happens when a part of the body freezes. Severe winter weather, especially when windy or humid, can lead to frostbite if exposed for extended amounts of time.
Things to look out for are:
- Pale/gray/blue skin initially
- Red, puffy skin as time goes on
- In their ears, tail, or paws
- Skin stays cold
- Skin shrivels
- Call your vet immediately
- Apply warm (not hot) water for approximately 20 minutes to the affected area.
- Do not use warming devices such as hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets. This could cause burns to their skin.
- Lightly touch/handle the affected areas. Rubbing or massaging could actually cause permanent damage.
More Pet Health & Safety
I hope you found, “When Is It Too Cold To Walk My Dog?” informative and helpful. Muddy Paws is a full service dog walking and pet sitting company. Caring for your pets is what we do! We strive to offer the best dog walking and pet sitting services as well as informative articles for keeping your pets happy and healthy. Feel free to read through more articles like this. If you would like additional help with your dog or cat, check out our pet care services.
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