Winter Safety Tips for Dogs

Taking snow days, drinking hot cocoa, and getting cozy by the fireplace are your favorite rituals in the winter months. There's nothing better than being warm inside, cuddled up next to your pup, while it's snowy and cold outside.

Poodle running in the snow
credit: Krisztian Juhasz/iStock/GettyImages

However, your dog still needs to get his exercise and relieve himself, so you do have to venture outdoors at some point. When you get out there, you need to ensure that your pup is warm and safe and that you're not taking any risks with his health. The following are some winter safety tips you can use to avoid a trip to the veterinarian and keep your dog happy all winter long.

Protecting against cold weather

There are multiple ways to protect your pup against the cold weather. Don't cut his hair right before winter comes; instead, keep it long so that he has extra warmth throughout the season. Whether you have a longhaired dog or a shorthaired dog, invest in a winter coat and/or sweater that's comfortable and cozy. You should also try booties to protect his paws, or try these alternatives if your dog won't wear booties.

Depending on the weather conditions and your dog's size and breed, you may also want to consider buying a winter coat for your dog.

Don't go on long walks if it's too frigid outside. This is especially important if your dog has a health condition, like arthritis, which may flare up in the cold weather. When you get home from a walk, towel dry your dog and make sure you remove any snow that has accumulated in his paws. You could also give him a warm bath to raise his body temperature; just don't use shampoo every time, because bathing your dog too much with soap can cause skin dryness.

You may also need to adjust your dog's diet, since your pup will burn more calories trying to stay warm in the cold weather. Before you do this, it's important to consult with your vet to make sure you're not overfeeding your dog.

West Highland White Terrier in red down jacket in the snow
credit: Image by Sherry Galey/Moment/GettyImages

Snow and ice precautions

Snow and ice can be especially dangerous to dogs for a few reasons. If you're walking your dog across an iced-over body of water, it may not be able to support his weight, and he could fall in. Avoid walking over these areas during the wintertime.

Also, snow and ice have the potential to leave your dogs' paws cracked, itchy, and dry. Rock salt, which is put down to melt snow and ice, can become stuck between his paws, leaving him in pain. It can also lead to frostbite and cause chemical burns. Whenever you go out for a walk, it's a good idea to slip some booties on your dog so that his paws are protected.

Signs of hypothermia and frostbite

Exposure to cold weather can cause hypothermia in dogs. Normally, your dog's body temperature should be between 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Puppies and senior dogs are more susceptible to hypothermia than healthy adult dogs.

If you notice that your dog is weak, shivering, lethargic, sad, has difficulty breathing, or has a low heart rate, he may have hypothermia, and you should take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible. There, your vet will take your dog's temperature and do some tests to determine why your dog is experiencing hypothermia.

In terms of treatment, your vet may put a heating blanket or a regular blanket on your dog. If the hypothermia is serious, your vet might inject warm fluids into your dog.

border collie in the snow
credit: Anna-av/iStock/GettyImages

If your dog has frostbite, his skin may be discolored and swollen, and you might see skin ulcers or blisters on the affected areas. Once you notice these symptoms, you can stick the affected areas in warm water or dab them with a warm towel. You should also wrap your dog in a warm blanket until you can get him to the veterinarian. While there, your vet may prescribe pain medication or antibiotics.