Is your dog a playful pooch who would get a case of the zoomies at the first sight of snow? Or do you have a canine couch potato that would rather stay snuggled under a blanket when the wintery weather arrives? Whichever one sounds more like your dog, at some point they’ll need to be out in the cold climate and you’ll have to take a little extra care to keep them safe.
Winter brings many hazards for our hounds, so we’ve created a guide on how to look after your dog in the cold weather, bringing awareness of winter health risks and top tips on how to keep your canine cosy.
Winter health risks
Us humans probably all feel our wellbeing deteriorating when the weather gets colder, stuffy noses, tickly coughs and banging headaches.
But a case of the sniffles isn’t as bad as it can get, with both humans and hounds being susceptible to severe health risks in the sub-zero temperatures, two of the main ones being frostbite and hypothermia.
When your dog is exposed to extremely chilly temperatures, their body responds instinctively to make sure all their bodily processes keep ticking over despite the extreme weather conditions.
Blood is automatically pulled right to the core of the body to preserve heat, but this means that areas such as the ears, paws and tail end up with little to no heat. You’ll probably notice this happening to yourself too, our ears and fingers always seem to be the coldest when we’re out in the freezing cold.
So, without warm blood pumping round these areas, they get so cold that the tissue becomes damaged, causing frostbite. Unfortunately, frostbite doesn’t always make itself obvious immediately, signs may only start to show after a few days. Look out for these symptoms:
- Discoloured, pale skin that’s possibly turning grey or black
- Area feels cold and brittle to touch
- Sensitive to touch
- Swelling of the affected area
Frostbitten skin will become extremely painful as it warms back up and if medical assistance is not sought promptly, permanent tissue damage could occur.
Another severe condition you need to be aware of in the winter months is hypothermia, which happens when your pooch endures too much time in the cold, whether that be from getting drenched in cold water or from rolling around in the snow. Dogs with health or circulation issues are much more susceptible, so it’s important to be careful when taking these dogs out for a cold, crisp stroll.
Hopefully, hypothermia won’t progress further than shivering and your dog’s ears and feet being super cold. However, if the condition does progress, your dog will become sluggish, lethargic and weak. Their muscles will begin to stiffen and their breathing and heart rate will slow right down. If left untreated, hypothermia can be life-threatening.
How do I know if my dog is too cold?
Basically, if it’s too cold for you without some extra layers on, your pooch will be cold too. Most dogs (maybe except the most pampered pooches) are resilient and try not to show any signs of pain, or in this case, being too cold. They’d much rather continue romping around in the snow, as this is so much more fun than going home, so they’ll try and hide that they’re positively freezing.
It might be tricky to spot the signs, but look out for shivering, whining, anxious behaviour and your dog even scouting out places to burrow. Your pup’s bare paws will probably be the first to feel the freezing temperatures, so watch out for them holding up their feet and walking strangely.
How do I look after my dog in the winter?
Wrap up warm for walkies
When you and your pooch decide to embrace the elements, you’ll probably be wrapping up warm with a scarf, hat, gloves, boots and plenty of other layers. But what about your dog?
Many pet parents think that because their dog has always got a great big furry coat on, they’re absolutely fine in the cold weather. But this is simply not true, most dogs would benefit from the warmth of an extra layer. Even dogs such as Labradors and Huskys who have super thick coats would be much happier with a nice warm coat on.
Even if your dog is a bit of a lazybones that would rather snooze by the fire than face the sub-zero temperatures, they’ll still need a walk, so invest in a dog jacket. This is even more important for dogs with thin coats, such as Whippets and Staffies. It might take a few days for your dog to get used to wearing their new jacket, so get a few treats at the ready to make it seem like a good thing.
You can even get little booties for your dog so that they don’t have to endure the cold snow on their bare paw pads. Not only is this beneficial for keeping your dog warm, but it’s also a super cute fashion statement.
Check for snow between their toes
After a lovely winter’s walk, you’ll need to wipe your dog’s paws down, not only to get rid of any muck or snow that would have otherwise been trampled on your floor, but to also check that there’s no snow or grit left between their toes.
This is even more important for the breeds with long, luscious locks. Their long hair means they’re much more prone to getting snow compacted in between their toes which can turn into little ice balls, which is super painful. Also, salt and grit used to ease the snow on the roads can get stuck, which can cause irritation.
So, after every walk you’ll want to wipe down your pooch’s feet properly. This is where some dog booties would come in handy, you just need to take the boots off and you don’t even need to worry about cleaning between those toes!
Keep them warm and dry
We’re certain that after your winter walk, you’ll be making yourself a hot drink, putting on your cosy clothes and snuggling under a blanket to warm back up. So, do the same for your pooch! Get a comfy, fluffy dog bed ready (or your own bed, whatever takes your pooch’s fancy), so that they can have a nice, long snooze.
Just be careful that your dog doesn’t seek refuge by the radiator or right by the fire in case they get burnt. It might be hard to convince them to move though, most dogs like to seek out the warmest spot in the house.
Never leave your dog in a car
This one is important to remember whatever the weather, you should never leave your dog alone in the car. Just as much as a hot car can be dangerous and potentially fatal, a freezing cold car can be just as bad.
Even if you’re just quickly nipping into the shops on the way home or just popping in to see a friend, it’s not worth the risk of putting your dog in danger.
Keep them entertained
We probably all know a pampered pooch who lives a life of luxury, refusing to step foot outdoors when it’s cold, which can be quite a problem when you need to let them out for the toilet! Even so, your dog still needs exercise, so try to walk them in the late morning or early afternoon when the sun is still shining and the temperatures aren’t quite so cold.
Other than that, to prevent boredom, you might want to increase their indoor activities. Brain games, extra training sessions, games of hide and seek and even indoor fetch are great ways to keep your pooch occupied when the weather is freezing.
Make them visible
Have you noticed yourself saying recently ‘it gets dark so early these days!’? Well, if so, you’ll want to keep your dog visible so you don’t lose them on these incredibly dark nights. Of course, if possible, you want to walk them when it’s still light out, but this isn’t always feasible with work and other life commitments.
Attach a light to your dog’s collar so you can still see them if they’re off lead and a big fan of racing through the bushes and running for miles and miles. You can also get a hi vis jacket for your pooch, which can double up as a warm coat too!
Light-up, flashing balls are also helpful too if your dog likes a game of fetch, allowing you to see what your dog is running after, and it also makes you less likely to lose one in the grass.
Try and stick to well-lit areas and consider wearing a head light to increase visibility.
Stay away from frozen lakes and rivers
If you’ve got a pooch who likes to cause a bit of mischief, you might often come home from walkies having to give them a full bath each time because they’ve jumped into a filthy body of water.
However, if your four-legged friend does like to take a dip, don’t let them attempt to leap into icy waters as this can be really risky. If you suspect that your pooch may take a dive, keep them on the lead around water to stop them.
Keep anti-freeze out of reach
Antifreeze is sweet and smells delicious to dogs, so they might be easily tempted into lapping it up if there’s a drop spilt on the floor.
However, it’s highly toxic to dogs and can have fatal consequences. It’s essential that you keep anti-freeze out of reach from your pooch and mop up any accidental spillages immediately to prevent disasters.
Senior special care
As our dogs grow older, they need a little extra TLC, and they deserve it too! However, the cold weather means that they require your care and attention even more.
Freezing temperatures can intensify common senior medical conditions such as arthritis, so you need to be careful to ensure your exercise routine is gentle, and make sure that you’re mindful of icy surfaces to prevent trips and falls.
Also, just like us, our dogs are more prone to illness in the winter, so expect your dog to potentially get a case of the sniffles.
It might take a little convincing to get your older pooch out for walkies in the cool weather (unless you’ve got an older dog who still acts they’re a pup), but it’s important you maintain a regular exercise routine to keep them as fit and healthy as can be.
Afterwards, have a soft, snuggly area for your dog to retreat to so they can recuperate from their cold walk.
On the other end of the spectrum, just like senior pooches, puppies too are a lot more susceptible to the cold weather than adult dogs. So, in the cold weather, keep your pup’s walks gentle and chilled, (if you pardon the pun) and try to keep them entertained indoors with lots of brain games.
Every single season, like spring and summer, come with a few additional risks, and winter is no exception. But with a few extra precautions, you and your pooch can still enjoy all the fun that the freezing temperatures and snowy scenes have to bring. Just make sure that you both have somewhere warm and cosy to return to after winter walkies!