By Grace Park
Published: 11/27/2019, edited: 07/31/2023
By Elizabeth Racine, DVM
Winter is coming, and while some dogs love to play in the snow, others may find the cold weather hard to bear. If your dog will be spending time outdoors this winter, taking a little extra time to prepare him for the cold will go a long way toward making your outing more comfortable and enjoyable for both of you!
How cold is too cold for your dog? There are no hard and fast rules. In general, smaller breeds tend to get cold faster. Not only are they closer to the ground and more likely to be in direct contact with the snow, but they also have less body mass to help them keep warm. Young puppies, seniors, and dogs with health concerns will also get cold faster than healthy adult dogs, so it’s important to monitor them closely and limit time outside when the temperatures drop. These dogs may benefit from a coat to help them conserve body heat, and should definitely not be left outside for long periods, particularly when the weather is wet.
Even dogs built for cold weather, like Huskies and Akitas, can get cold if left outdoors for long periods of time. Most of our pet dogs are not acclimated to extreme temperatures the way their working dog cousins are, so they should not be left out in cold weather unsupervised.
No matter how much your dog loves the cold, he may still be susceptible to the snow and ice that builds up between his paw pads. Some dogs also experience chapped or cracked paw pads after spending too much time in the snow. If your dog is going to be romping in the snow, a well-fitted pair of boots can help protect his feet. Boots can also help dogs with mobility issues gain better traction on the snow and ice. You can help your dog get used to the boots by having him start by wearing them indoors for increasing amounts of time before graduating to outdoor play. For dogs that won’t tolerate boots, paw balms are available at most pet stores and can be used to coat the paw pads to prevent cracking.
Many common de-icing products, including rock salt, can be rough on your dog’s skin. Small breed dogs, in particular, may have to deal with the effects not only on their paws, but also on their chests and bellies from being so close to the ground. Many of these products are also toxic if ingested, which can be dangerous when your dog licks the product off of his paws. When choosing de-icing products to use around your home, look for products that are labeled as non-toxic and pet-safe. If you walk your dog on public sidewalks and roadways, consider using boots to protect his feet, and wiping the salt off his paws, legs, and belly with a warm damp towel when you get home.
Lastly, if you live in an area that’s prone to winter storms, make sure you are ready for emergencies and have supplies on hand in case you and your dog are stuck at home for a few days. With just a little preparation, you and your dog will be warm and safe all winter long!
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