As the winter chill sets in, you want to be sure your dogs get the care they need throughout these colder months. Whether it’s your first winter as a dog owner, or you’ve moved to a location with more extreme winters, it’s only natural to feel concerned about your dog’s well-being as the temperature drops. These tips will help you care for your furry friend when fur alone is not enough in these colder months, so that they are safe and comfortable this winter.
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1. Keep Your Dog Active
It’s important to ensure that your dog gets plenty of exercise all year round. But whether or not you can safely walk your dog outside during the winter depends on the temperature and conditions outside. CountryLiving states that regardless of breed, you should not walk your dog if the temperature drops below -10 degrees Celsius or 14 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature might be higher for smaller dogs and dogs with short fur. Remember, if you’re uncomfortably cold outside, your dog will be too, so make your judgment call accordingly.
If it’s simply too cold to walk your dog outside, you’ll need to help them get enough exercise indoors. If you have plenty of space, you could play fetch indoors or create an obstacle course. If you have limited space, remember that mental stimulation is equally important for your dog's health. Games like searching for treats around the house or puzzle toys for dogs can help keep your pup mentally stimulated between walks.
Other alternatives include joining a local indoor K9 agility club, collaborating with other dog owners to rent sufficient space indoors, or finding a nearby indoor dog park.
2. Protect Your Dog’s Paws
Does my dog need socks or booties? Dogs' paws and pads vary in their sensitivity to the outdoors. Softer pads tend to be more sensitive to temperature and surface texture, while dogs with rougher, harder, or more “calloused” pads tend to be more resistant to these fluctuations.
Regardless of how resilient your pup’s pads are, at a certain point, they will need to be protected from the cold. In those instances, dog socks or booties can be a good option. It is important to introduce them to new booties in a comfortable environment where they can get used to walking with them before taking them on a long hike outside (and you might want to have your phone ready to record a video the first time you put them on because it is almost invariably a funny situation as they try to figure out how to walk with their new accouterments).
Still, dog booties have their drawbacks. A poor or improper fit can alter the dog’s gait, leading to muscle or joint imbalances. They might not have the same traction as they do with their normal paws, leading to slipping which can cause pulled or strained muscles and ligaments. And many dog booties simply don’t stay on all that long.
DOGPAK mascot Thunder the Wonder Dog was an avalanche rescue dog in Colorado.
In his case, he had tough pads that rarely needed to be covered by booties. In fact, in a search or training scenario, booties hindered his ability to move efficiently due to poor traction and awkward fit. Instead, it was important for him to have the full traction his paws offered, allowing his foot to press into the snow or ice, expand for surface retention, and grip into the hard snow using his claws. Booties interfered with the natural traction and advantages his paws offered in such an environment.
Since his paws were naturally hard and cold-resistant, we always opted to forego the booties and he never had an issue. Again though, other dogs might need more protection from the cold, so it is important to be vigilant and notice any sensitivities to ice, snow, or cold ground that your dog might have.
Another problem some of the avalanche rescue dogs dealt with was snow build-up on the long furs between their toes. Thunder’s teammate, a golden retriever, would often begin to build up clumps of snow on the long fur between his pads that would then hinder his searching ability. One solution to this issue was to use Musher’s Secret, an organic wax blend originally developed for use with sled dogs.
One good reason to use dog booties or socks is to protect your pup’s pads from salted roads or sidewalks. If you live in an area that uses salt to help de-ice roads and sidewalks, that salt can rub into your dog’s pads, causing them to dry out and potentially crack. It is important to take proper precautions against this, and dog booties and socks can be a great preventative.
3. Protect Them From the Elements
Maybe it’s still warm enough that you can walk your dog outside, but it’s not exactly balmy! If this is the case in your area, a good option is to outfit your dog with booties and a cozy sweater or dog jacket so that they don’t get too cold while walking or playing outdoors.
To choose the right booties, All Dog Boots offers a detailed sizing chart and recommends measuring the width and length of your dog’s paws to assess their size before going shopping.
If you want to pick out a sweater, Dog Training Nation also recommends measuring your dog to ensure that the sweater will thoroughly cover their back, chest, and stomach.
Dog jackets come in an array of sizes, thicknesses, and fit. From light to heavy, short to long, polyester to synthetic down, it is important to choose a jacket (or two) that is appropriate for your climate.
Proper-fitting booties, sweaters or jackets will help your dog feel more comfortable wearing them and won’t inhibit your pup’s movement. And your pup will appreciate looking stylish at the park. Remember, look good, feel good, play good!
After getting your dog’s measurements, you can shop online to find the right choice for your dogs. Look for items with stellar product reviews from veterinarians.
4. Accommodate Your Dog Inside
What if your dog typically spends most of their time outdoors during the warmer months? Although you can heat up their outdoor doghouse, you’ll also need to make sure that you have a space set up in your home with their belongings. You may want to get an appropriately sized dog bed and a basket for your dog’s toys that you can place nearby. Furthermore, store away any belongings that your dog might be tempted to chew. Be prepared to clean their fur off of your furniture, too.
5. Prevent Allergies
Yes, some dogs develop wintertime allergies! If you’ve noticed that your dog’s eyes seem red or watery, or that they’ve been scratching themselves very frequently, talk to your vet about prescribing a topical or oral allergy medication or finding the right diet for your pup. Your vet can also help you figure out the specific cause of your dog’s winter allergy and care for them accordingly.
6. Limit Snacks and Invest in High-Quality Food
If your dog doesn’t get as much physical activity in the winter, you might notice that they gain a few pounds. This is a good time to cut back on treats - if your dog keeps eating the same amount of calories without getting as much exercise, they could become overweight!
Feeding your dog the right diet is a great way to ensure optimal health as it can help improve skin and coat condition, reduce shedding and allergies, provide better digestion and more balanced nutrition. Different dogs can have different dietary needs, so it is important to discuss a proper diet specific to your dog with your veterinarian.
Caring for your dog during the winter doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s all about adapting to their shifting needs. By taking steps like protecting them outdoors, preventing allergies, and feeding them high-quality food, you’ll be able to shield your dog from the cold so that they can enjoy the winter as well as the warmer months to come!
Article by Sean Morris: A few years ago, Sean left his job as a social worker to spend more time with his kids. Today, he writes for LearnFit his spare time. He has experience in managing a career with parenting and transitioning to a family-focused lifestyle.