Skip to main content

3 things the experts wished pet parents knew about keeping dogs safe in winter

Paw health, illness prevention, and winter clothes for dogs: Expert-recommended tips

Playing in the snow might seem like a dream come true, but there’s a lot you need to do to keep everyone safe and healthy in the winter. Insulated coats are just the beginning! There are countless ways to protect your dog from hazards like frostbite, but there are also hidden dangers for dogs in snow, ice, or freezing conditions.

Before you start your frantic Google searching, though, we’ve asked several of the pet care industry’s leading experts what they wish owners knew about keeping dogs safe in winter. You might be surprised by what they had to say! Luckily, even the most unexpected winter challenges have easy solutions, and we have them all listed for you here.

A brown dog plays in the snow in a winter forest
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to cold-weather gear for dogs

As cute as your dog might look in a winter coat, not all pups need one. According to Thomas Bohne, founder of the pit bull advocacy Kennel to Couch, “the necessity of winter apparel for dogs depends on several factors.”

These factors include:

  • The climate where you live
  • Your dog’s coat/fur type and length
  • Your dog’s age and general health

While there are many ways to determine if your dog needs a sweater this winter, it can help to pay attention to the way your furry friend acts when temperatures dip lower. If they look uncomfortable — they probably are! As Bohne reminded us, “dogs shiver when they’re cold, just like humans.”

Introduce dog winter clothes gradually

Some pups take to new clothes instantly, while others have some warming up to do (literally). Rebarkable founder Ali Smith recommends introducing new coats and shoes gradually before wearing them out and about. This should help desensitize your buddy enough for them to get used to their new winter weather gear.

A brown French bulldog wearing a sweater looks up
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Coats for dogs are great, but paw protection is key for outdoor walks

Whether or not your dog needs a winter coat, you’ll want to consider some extra paw protection before going outside. The cold, icy ground can do more damage than you think.

Leigh Siegfried, the CEO and founder of Opportunity Barks Dog Training, recommends “checking paws for cracks or matted fur” on a regular basis, especially after walks. You might consider investing in some paw wax for soothing irritated paw pads, too.

Paola Cuevas, a Veterinary consultant at PetKeen, tells PawTracks “the salt used to melt snow and ice can cause skin irritation to your dog on contact and intoxication if ingested,” so you’ll want to look for a kind that’s safe for use around animals.

Alternatively, Cuevas recommends “using dog booties to protect the paws from frostbite,” though not all dogs love this idea. That’s why paw wax is such a great alternative!

Nail trimming and paw grooming can be lifesavers in the wintertime

If you choose to use booties for your pup or not, you’ll also want to stay on top of their paw and nail health. As Leigh Seigfried explains, “We tend to not give foot health its due, but nail length will impact overall health, how they move, and their ability to properly grip indoors and out on slick surfaces.” Of course, that’s only half of the equation.

“We have a Cavalier King Charles spaniel with long ‘grinch feet’ fur around his paws, which are prone to collecting leaves and debris when on walks,” shared Sadie Cornelius of Love Your Dog. “We always do a thorough inspection and wipe down his paws with a warm, soapy cloth after we go walks.” Owners also want to trim the fur from between the paw pads to prevent the buildup of ice or debris.

A Boston terrier wearing a gray sweater stands in the snow

The hidden dangers of cold weather can affect even healthy pups or their owners

Unless you live in a mild climate, any dog or owner can fall victim to winter’s hidden dangers. As Paola Cuevas explains, “Hypothermia, frostbite, and increased accidents are a risk if you are outside with your dog during extremely cold winter weather and snow.” That’s why it’s so important to be vigilant and prepared!

Thomas Bohne urges pet parents to “know the signs of hypothermia: changes in breathing or heart rate — from rapid to slow — lethargy, and paws or ears that are cold to the touch.” This kind of knowledge could someday save a life!

Dehydration and respiratory illness are surprising side effects of too much time in the cold

Frostbite and hypothermia are well-known dangers of freezing temperatures, but there are other illnesses to keep an eye out for, too. Paola Cuevas notes that “cold temperatures put a dog at a higher risk of developing respiratory infections or dehydration,” so make sure to have water on hand if you’re going outside. Don’t forget to bundle up, too!

Visibility is key when walking in the snow with your pup

Even if everyone is warm and protected from freezing temperatures, snow itself can be a hazard to the senses. It only takes a little wind for everything to be covered in a new layer of powder — including your dog — so prioritize visibility when shopping for dog winter gear. Sadie Cornelius suggests “using a bright harness can ensure they remain safe and seen in the snow and darker hours.”

With these tips and tricks in mind, you’ll be able to enjoy a romp in the snow without worrying about your fur baby’s health. They’ll be warm, safe, and ready to play!

Editors' Recommendations

Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
Why is my dog drooling? Here’s when to be concerned about sudden or excessive dog salivation
This is why your dog slobbers all over you and themselves
A drooling Irish Setter looks to the side

Although St. Bernards, Mastiffs, and several other large breeds are known for their tendency to drool, it may be quite a shock if your usually drool-free pup suddenly starts to salivate. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place if you find yourself asking, "Why is my dog drooling?"
We’ve looked into many causes of excessive and sudden salivation, from the easy fixes to the more concerning problems. Most likely, drooling is nothing to worry about, but it never hurts to take a more careful look — especially if your pup is behaving oddly. Here’s everything you’ll want to know about canine salivation.

Why is my dog drooling and is sudden or excessive drooling a cause for concern?
Though drooling has many harmless causes, which we'll cover later in this article, you may want to keep a closer eye on your pet if you notice sudden salivation — especially if it’s a large amount.
Nausea and stomachaches are common causes of sudden drooling for dogs, although they will be temporary. If you think about it, many humans experience the very same thing! You may also notice vomiting or lethargy if your pet has ingested something they’re not supposed to, so don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you’re concerned about your best buddy’s wellbeing.
On a more urgent note, dogs may also salivate if a foreign object becomes lodged anywhere in the mouth or throat. This can become a dangerous situation if the object blocks their airways, so you should waste no time in getting your fur baby to your closest veterinarian’s office if this could be the case.
Excessive, sudden drooling can also occur when a dog is overheated. Ashely Gallagher, DVM, explains that although salivation can act as a way of cooling off, just like panting, dogs don’t usually resort to this technique unless they are having trouble regulating their temperature through panting alone.
One last cause of sudden drooling is an upper respiratory infection. An illness of the nose, throat, or sinuses is more likely for pups who have been in group settings, such as shelters or kennels, but any dog can catch one, according to Amy Flowers, DVM. Luckily, your veterinarian will be able to guide you toward the best treatment for your furry friend. In most cases, it's a quick fix!

Read more
Taking your dog’s collar off at night: Safe move or safety risk?
What to know about taking your dog's collar off at night
A man clips a leash on a beagle's collar.

When you and you dog are out and about, your dog's collar is an important part of keeping them safe. It holds their tags, which has vital info that can help you reunite if your dog gets lost, is a convenient place to hold onto if the leash breaks, and it lets other people know that your dog isn't a stray if they get lost.

However, some dog owners take their dog's collar off while they're at home. For some, this sounds like the perfect opportunity to give their dog some time to relax. For others, this might sound like a safety hazard. So which is the truth?

Read more
Xylitol is dangerous for dogs: 10 surprising products that contain it as a hidden ingredient
Products that hide xylitol and can be toxic to dogs
Xylitol with a wooden spoon and chemical structure

Chocolate, grapes, table scraps: There are some foods every pet parent knows you shouldn't give to dogs no matter how cute their puppy-dog eyes are. Unfortunately, many other foods contain several hidden ingredients that can be harmful to our furry friends. Take xylitol, for instance. You might not know exactly what it is, but it certainly sounds more like a musical instrument than an ingredient.

While it is perfectly fine for humans to ingest this ingredient, xylitol and dogs are another story. If you have questions, don't worry! We'll help you learn:

Read more