With the weather getting colder and the days shorter, most of us would rather be tucked up warm at home than walking outside. However, if you have a dog, you need to keep up an exercise routine for them.
Daily walks are an important part of looking after your dog as walking provides exercise and keeps them entertained. It’s important to remember, though, that cold temperatures and wet or snowy weather can pose risks to your pet, as well as yourself.
Getting to grips with safety tips when walking your dog in winter and knowing what cold weather signs to look out for in your pet can help ensure you are both able to enjoy your walks.
Is it ok to walk your dog in winter?
It is definitely still fine for you to walk your dog in the winter, but you’ll need to take a bit more care so you can both stay safe and healthy. However, if the weather is very wet or cold, it’s a good idea to shorten your walk slightly for yours and your pet’s comfort.
As well as walking your dog regularly in the winter months, you might also want to start playing some games indoors to help keep them entertained and provide mental stimulation. Games like hiding their toys for them to find and praising them when they do or teaching them tricks and routes around furniture with treats can all help to keep your dog active in the winter.
If your dog has a medical condition that could be made worse by ongoing exposure to cold air, such as chronic lung problems or thyroid disease, you’ll want to limit the time they spend outside. If you’re unsure if the cold weather could affect a medical condition, it’s a good idea to check with your vet to get their advice on the best way to exercise your dog during winter.
Beyond the cold of the winter months, you also need to be aware of other potential safety hazards when walking your dog in winter. When the weather gets icy, people will use de-icer and antifreeze on their cars, which is dangerous for dogs and cats. Antifreeze tastes sweet and can attract your pet but it can be fatal if they get it in their system. If you walk a route where there are a lot of cars, don’t let your dog drink out of puddles and be sure to wash their paws off when they get home.
What are the best times to walk your dog?
Ideally, you want to ensure you’re walking your dog during daylight hours for safety reasons. This will mean you can always see your dog and that they can have a good, safe run around. You can also change up their walking routine by taking different routes so they can explore different sites and smells, which is a great idea if you’re having to go on shorter walks.
If you’re unable to walk your dog when it’s light, you’ll need to be extra careful. Walking your dog in the dark or as it is getting dark requires some extra safety measures, such as:
- Go somewhere you know: Take a familiar route so you know exactly where you’re going.
- Keep your dog on the lead: Keeping your dog on the lead in the dark is much safer for both of you.
- Don’t wear headphones: With visibility limited, you’ll need to be able to hear any potential dangers.
- Keep your mobile with you: You never know what might happen, so it’s a good idea to take your charged mobile with you so you can call for help if you or your dog get into trouble.
- Take a torch: It gets dark quickly in winter so make sure you have a torch at the ready. Head torches are a great option as they free up your hands.
- Wear reflective clothing: You want to make sure you and your dog can be seen, so reflective clothing and a reflective collar and lead or even dog coat will help. You might also want to consider a flashing collar if your dog will be comfortable wearing one.
- Walk against traffic: If you need to walk along a road with no pavement, make sure you are walking so traffic is coming towards you. It is also important to keep your dog on the lead and as close to you as possible.
- Tell someone where you’re going: Always make sure you either tell someone where you’re going or take a friend or family member with you.
Should I put clothes on my dog in winter?
Just as you would put a coat on yourself to go out for a walk, you might want to consider getting your dog a coat to help them stay warm and dry when you take them out. Small and older dogs tend to feel the cold a lot more, as do short-haired breeds and those with thinner coats, so adding an extra layer of protection can make them much more comfortable.
If you do decide to get your dog a coat, you’ll need to make sure it’s the right size, is windproof, waterproof and easy to clean. You should also think about your dog’s needs, such as whether they need a coat to cover their back and their stomach.
Once you have the coat ready to go, you’ll need to double-check that your dog can move freely and that it doesn’t rub them or get in the way when they go to the toilet. Your dog will tell you in they aren’t happy with the coat, so pay attention to their behaviour.
As well as a coat, you might want to consider getting doggy boots for your pet if they often get injuries on their footpads or they have very sensitive skin. The majority of dogs don’t use them and many can find them stressful to wear, so you should start by keeping an eye on their paws during the winter months before resorting to boots.
Whether you put clothes on your dog to take them out or not, it is important to make sure they dry off as quickly as possible after their walk. Get them nice and warm once you get home and dry them off with a towel after walking in the rain or snow.
Are dogs’ paws ok in the snow?
Dogs paws are fine in the snow but you may find that they end up with ice balls or clumps of snow getting stuck to the fur between their pads and toes. This can make their paws get colder much faster and cause discomfort. To avoid this, aim to keep the fur on their paws trimmed down during the winter months.
You should also bear in mind that snow isn’t the only potential hazard to your dog’s paws during winter. There may be hazards hidden by the snow, as well as rock salt on the pavements and roads.
Rock salt is dangerous to cats and dogs and can end up being ingested when they lick their paws after a walk. You should wipe off your dog’s paws after walking to remove any potential rock salt and to give them a check over to ensure there are no injuries.
How cold is too cold for my dog?
There is no set temperature that is too cold for all dogs. Different breeds of dogs will handle the cold weather differently, with some feeling it more than others. The type of coat your dog has and its colour can affect how well they deal with the cold, as well as the size, weight, age and health of your pet.
It is generally a good idea to air on the side of caution when it comes to winter weather, as you don’t want your dog getting too cold. Pay attention to their behaviour, as this will be the best indicator that they are too cold. If your dog starts shivering, slowing down, looking for shelter, holding up a paw or whining, these are all signs that they are too cold and need to get somewhere warm.
If temperatures drop too much, dogs can be at risk from hypothermia, which is incredibly dangerous as it causes your pet’s body to start to shut down. So long as you keep your dog warm on their walk, pay attention to what they are telling you with their behaviour and get them warm and dry when you get home, they should absolutely be fine going for walks in winter.