Walking in a winter wonderland: Don’t let the cold weather keep you and your dog inside this winter

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher / Photo

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Several days have gone by where I haven’t seen my horse or walked my dogs in daylight. With such reduced daylight hours my plans have necessarily changed. The snow-capped mountains just bring it closer to mind that soon we are going to need to take full-on winter precautions.

Paw protection

Many dogs do not need anything on their feet, and paw protection is an admittedly new concept. However, dogs that get cold or do serious winter hiking can benefit from booties. Dogs get snow trapped between their toes, which then turns into ice balls with the added body heat. These can make dogs feel more cold and uncomfortable.

Some dogs are bothered by the salt that is used to melt ice off roads and sidewalks. The old adage “putting salt in a wound” comes from a real thing; if they have small cuts in their paw pads, salt is very irritating. To help clean their paws off, many dogs will lick their feet when they get back inside. Licking road salt off can cause stomach and digestive upset. This licking also further irritates paws, which makes them more painful next time they go out.

For dogs that tolerate boots and can have them fit properly, boots can be a good option. I will admit that these dogs are in the minority. If your dog is in the majority (or you are too embarrassed to buy little dog booties), there are also different types of oil/wax you can use. These create a less-resistant layer between your dog’s paws and the outdoors than boots, but can still be helpful. It coats the hair to prevent snow build-up between their toes, and provides a barrier to salt. This is also helpful for dogs who get dry or cracked paw pads in the winter. If your dog has a lot of hair to collect snow, clipping the hair between the toes can be helpful.

Night safety

While this is important for all dark times, there are certainly more hours of dark in the winter. Either you or your dog should be wearing something that is light colored and reflective. This will help approaching cars see you. It is also a good idea to wear a headlamp, so that you stand out in areas that are unlit. There are several types of collars and leashes that light up. These not only help cars realize there is a pet that may be in front of or behind you, but in the event that they get away it makes them easily identifiable to traffic. Remember that roads can be slick, so cars need more space to stop.

Extra coat warmth

Depending on your dog and their cold tolerance, they may or may not need an extra jacket. Dogs that enjoy cold weather typically do not need coats. Older dogs, dogs with a short-hair coat, or dogs that aren’t well adapted to the cold may be more comfortable wearing a jacket. One of my dogs hails from the Caribbean, and she starts wearing a jacket in October. There are many different weights and waterproofing, so you can determine what is best for your dog. There are some days where you may need to take short walks even with a jacket, especially if they appear uncomfortable. Use your judgement; some dogs do not tolerate the cold well, just as others don’t tolerate the heat well.

Stay hydrated

Just because your dog isn’t panting doesn’t mean they don’t need water. Unlike in the summer, many water sources are frozen in the winter. If you are planning a long hike, it is important to bring fresh water for your dog. Even unfrozen water can be very cold and uncomfortable to drink. Make sure your dog has another water source for long outings.

Watch your step

Remember that walkways can be very slippery, and there is often a layer of ice underneath the snow. Exuberant dogs (or dogs being taunted by squirrels) can take off quickly and make you lose your footing. Slips and falls are far more common in winter months, especially when there is an animal attached to your arm. Take care walking or jogging, especially when you can’t see the footing as well.

We have about six more months of darkness, and likely lots of snow to come, so start preparing yourself now. As nice as a warm house is at the end of the day, there are lots of ways to adapt so we don’t need to give up our dog exercise time.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL: petdocanna@gmail.com

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