In case you are trying, like me, to avoid canine cabin fever for as long as possible, here are some tips to make sure your pup is happy and healthy during the winter walking season!
1. Paw protection
Dog paws are not impervious barriers to winter cold, chemicals and other nuisances. Snowmelt chemicals can cause paw irritation and toxicity if the dog licks their paws, and cold sidewalks can cause chaffing and cracking. Dog paw protection is a must for winter walks!
For my dogs, high quality boots were a necessity. I like the Grip Trex ($70) by Ruffwear (and am currently trying out the Summit Trex model ($60) to see if it keeps snow out of the boot better). I’ve also read many positive reviews for the Muttluk’s All Weather or Fleece-lined ($40-60) dog boots. YES, $40-70 bucks is a lot to spend on dog boots but they are a worthy investment. I’ve put my dog’s Grip Trex boots through 3 winter seasons and besides protecting my pups’ paws flawlessly, they still look brand new. Cheaper alternatives aren’t going to do the job and probably won’t last as long.
Dog boots tip #1: You’ve really got to get the right size so the boots don’t come off easily but are still comfortable. Measure your dog’s feet according to the manufacturer’s instructions several times to ensure accuracy. And definitely check out the seller’s return/exchange policy before purchasing in case you need a different size anyway!
Dog boots tip #2: As with any new pet accessory or device, you have to introduce boots slowly and positively. Not many pups are going to be overly thrilled about having boots on for the first time in their lives, but (in my experience) they forget about their footwear disdain when they discover how much more comfortable they are outdoors.
While you’re introducing your dog to the wonderful world of dog boots (or if your dog just really isn’t going for shoes), there are several things you can do to keep your pup’s paws as comfortable as possible in the meantime! First, trim the fur between your dog’s paw pads. This will keep the fur from matting and clumping around snow, ice and snowmelt chemicals. Next, use a paw salve like Musher’s Secret or petroleum jelly to moisturize and minimally protect your pup’s paws from the element. Finally, thoroughly wipe your dog’s paws with a washcloth after every outside excursions, being sure to get in between the paw pads.
2. Coat protection
Depending on how cold it gets where you live, or if you have a short-haired, elderly, young or ill dog, a dog coat is also a great investment. There are some pretty hardcore coats on the market from brands like Ruffwear or Hurtta that will set you back $40-90 and some less impervious dog sweaters from other retailers like Target or Petco for about $20. A wet coat isn’t going to do your pup much good, so if your area experiences severe weather during the winter, opt for a more expensive, waterproof winter coat. If you’re just combating the cold and can avoid rain/snow/sleet all of the time, a cheaper dog sweater might cut it.
Cold, dry winter air is as rough on your dog’s skin as it is on your skin! Ask your vet if an omega-3 supplement could help keep your dog’s skin moisturized and healthy during the winter months (and beyond!). Lastly, it’s a good idea to wipe off your dog’s legs and underbelly after walks just like paws. You may even want to bring a towel with you during walks to remove snowmelt products or snow/ice from your dog’s coat and feet immediately.
3. Keep your dog on leash with a harness
Although hazards for off-leash dogs exist in abundance year-round, winter poses some particular risks for un- or under-supervised dogs. Toxic substances like snowmelt chemicals and antifreeze abound, and if your dog is zooming around off leash, you may not notice her gulp some rock salt or take a lick of an antifreeze spill. Chucks of ice, asphalt liberated from the street by snow plows and sticks are also items your pup shouldn’t ingest but might if left to her own devices. So play it safe and keep your dog on leash.
Clipping a leash to a neck collar is not an optimal way to walk your dog at any time of year because it puts strain on the dog’s neck, leading to breathing problems and eye issues as the result of increased intracranial pressure. It’s also, like, the least efficient way to control your dog’s position in space, which can really be an issue in winter when ground conditions aren’t ideal. Opt for a front-clip harness like the Easy Walk harness and carry a small bag of dog kibble with your to keep your pup by your side during distracting events.
4. Keep it short
No amount of gear and preparation will wholly protect your pup from winter hazards, so keep walks short by breaking your usual walking time into two or three shorter components that are spaced out over the day. Monitor your dog for signs of real discomfort, frost bite or hypothermia. Frostbitten skin will most common occur on extremities like the ears, tails and toes and can look pale or red, painful or numb, and swollen. If your dog is exhibiting shallow breathing or disorientation, get your dog inside immediately and check for a slow pulse – these are all signs of hypothermia and your dog should be taken to a vet ASAP.