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Cold weather safety tips

Keep your dog on leash during walks - more dogs are reported lost in winter than any other season.
Keep your dog on leash during walks - more dogs are reported lost in winter than any other season.
Patrycja Malinowska

Dogs need their exercise, even if it's cold outside. While some dogs, such as Huskies and Chow Chows, are well suited for winter frolicking, others do not have the thick coats and body fat required to maintain normal body temperature in subzero conditions. Double-coat or not, all dogs need to be monitored in cold weather.

  • Always pay attention to your dog. If you're in tune with your canine, you should be able to tell when your dog has had enough of the cold. Sometimes a dog will be blunt: he'll root his paws to the ground and refuse to walk any further, or he'll turn around and start heading back home. Other times you'll have to spot subtler signals, such as frequently lifting individual legs and keeping them off the ground. Shivering is the first sign of a dog's drop in body temperature and should end a walk.
  • Purchase appropriate outerwear. Some dogs, especially small and short-haired breeds, may be more sensitive to the cold. When buying a sweater or coat, look for one with a lot of coverage but also make sure the leg holes are loose enough to allow for a wide range of movement. There are a lot of coat options available. Remember, your are looking for a coat meant to keep your dog warm and comfortable, not just to look pretty (but if you're willing to pay for fashion and function, Blue Willow Dog Coats seems like a good place to start) - so do your research and make sure it's made of a quality material and comes from a trusted retailer.
  • Dog booties are also a good idea to protect sensitive pads from frostbite. Make sure the booties are securely fastened as they can easily slide off. If you don't use booties, check your dog's paws for frostbite immediately after a walk and make sure to rinse and wipe off any salt or ice residue. Salt can exacerbate dryness and cracking of the paw pads, and can cause diarrhea and vomiting if ingested. Clipping the fur between pads can help prevent buildup, and will aid in traction. You can also rub baby oil in and between pads to keep them moist and pliable.
  • Steer your dog away from any puddles during your walk. Products like antifreeze have a sweet, appealing taste for dogs, but are deadly when ingested. If you think your dog has ingested antifreeze (symptoms include lack of coordination, diarrhea and vomiting, as well as seizures) call your vet immediately. There is an antidote, but it must be administered before permanent kidney damage occurs.
  • Wipe snow off of your dog's legs and belly, and check the nose, ears, tail and scrotum for frostbite as well. Frostbitten skin appears red or gray. Gradually warm the area and contact your vet if you notice frostbite.
  • Brush your dog regularly. A clean coat provides better heat retention. If giving your dog a bath, make sure to dry his coat thoroughly before letting him outside.
  • Create a warm, raised area for you dog to sleep on.
  • Do not leave your dog alone outside or in a car in cold weather. Cars act like refrigerators in the winter.
  • Continue to provide access to water at all times.

Be extra careful with sick dogs, older dogs and puppies. When it is very cold, take them outside only to relieve themselves, and provide alternate exercise indoors.

If your dogs lives outside permanently, there are even more tips to know.

If you know of a dog that is kept outside in inhumane conditions, please visit this page.