Skip to main content

6 safety precautions dog parents should take when cold weather hits

Cold weather for dogs often equals romping through the snow and using a convenient snowman as a fire hydrant. But if the weather outside is frightful, dogs can develop chapped, cracked noses and paws and dry, flaky skin elsewhere. And those aren’t the only risks. Potentially toxic deicing agents can make your dog seriously ill if ingested; they can also cause paw irritation. Even Nordic breeds like huskies can suffer the consequences of an ill-prepared trek through the snow. Here are six precautions you should take if you plan to spend time walking your dog in a winter wonderland.  

A black and white Boxer wearing a gray sweater standing near a snowy hedge.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

1. Make sure your dog can handle cold weather

Regardless of your dog’s age, you may want to take him in for a checkup before temperatures drop. Older dogs have an increased risk of developing arthritis. Because cold weather exacerbates arthritis, your vet may offer helpful suggestions that can improve your pooch’s tolerance to cold. Senior pooches are also more likely to slip and fall, putting them at risk of broken bones. If your dog suffers from a chronic condition like diabetes or heart disease, keep your winter walks brief. Senior dogs, young puppies, dogs with health conditions, short-coated dogs, and thin dogs are much more likely to suffer from frostbite and hypothermia. 

2. Give your pup a bath when you get home

From deicers to antifreeze, winter brings with it numerous chemicals that can be irritating or toxic to your pup. Use a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic dog shampoo on your pup’s paws, legs, and belly when you get in from the cold. If you don’t give him a bath, the chemicals used in deicers could irritate his paws. Worse, if your dog ran through antifreeze while he was outside playing, ingesting the substance when he bathes himself could prove fatal. By the same token, you’ll want to clean up the garage or driveway quickly after topping off the antifreeze in your car. It may seem like a hassle, but your dog’s life is worth the minor inconvenience. If you think there’s a chance your dog has ingested antifreeze, take him to the vet immediately

3. Keep your fur baby warm

Is there anything more adorable than a dog wearing a sweater and booties? Probably not. In addition to being absolutely precious, sweaters, dog coats, and booties can make those outdoor potty breaks a lot more comfortable for your fur baby. Make sure to purchase clothes and booties in the proper size, as anything too small will feel uncomfortable, and items that are too large may slip off. You’ll want to keep a few sweaters and booties on rotation. Your pup doesn’t want to wear wet clothes any more than you do. 

A black and white dog standing outside in the snow.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

4. Check your dog’s paws after each walk

Just like your skin can crack and peel during the harsh winter months, your fur baby’s nose and paws are susceptible to the cold. The combination of cold, dry weather, deicer, chemicals, ice accumulation, and rock salt can lead to sore, irritated, injured paws. If your dog begins to limp while you’re outside, cut your walk short and take him home. Make sure you check his paws thoroughly, especially if you have a long-haired breed, as ice can become lodged between his toes.

5. Make sure your pet can find his way home

Snow and ice can mask the usual scents your dog needs to navigate his way back to you. Ensure your pooch is microchipped and wears a collar with your current address and phone number in case he gets lost. To make sure your pup stays safe, don’t let him outside unattended and without a leash.  

6. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog

Have you ever wondered, “Do dogs get cold?” According to Zay Satchu, veterinarian and founder of Brooklyn, New York’s Bond Vet, “Breeds with thicker coats are typically derived from colder climate areas and will have a higher tolerance for low temperatures.” Generally speaking, if you think it’s too cold to be outside, it’s a good idea to keep your pup indoors. You should never leave your dog unattended in cold weather, as it could result in hypothermia or frostbite, or even have fatal consequences. 

A Belgian Malinois running in the snow.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Going outside for a brisk walk with your dog can be invigorating, but that doesn’t mean you should assume he’s enjoying himself. Look for any signs of discomfort like limping, shivering, whimpering, or anxiety. If your dog looks miserable, he probably is. Keep your fur baby bundled up, look out for harmful chemicals, make sure to give him a thorough wipe-down when you get home, and both you and your pooch will be able to enjoy your winter walks. 

Editors' Recommendations

Mary Johnson
Contributor
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
Is your puppy breathing fast while sleeping? Here’s when you should worry and how to help your dog
When to call a vet because your pup is breathing fast while sleeping
A Jack Russell terrier lies in bed between the feet of his owner

It’s hard not to love watching your puppy sleep. In fact, they might somehow manage to get cuter as they snooze. They look so content and peaceful, especially if they're snuggled up to you. Though experts frequently recommend giving your pet their own sleep space, like a crate, it’s ultimately up to you. Regardless of where and when your puppy is sleeping, you want them to be comfortable and safe. If you notice your puppy breathing fast while sleeping, you may get worried. Should you be? It depends.
Here’s what experts want you to know about labored breathing during sleep and when to call a vet.

Different puppy sleeping patterns
Before we get into breathing patterns, it could help to have some knowledge of puppy sleeping patterns. They're similar to ours, though puppies cycle through them more quickly than humans. A puppy may experience 20 sleep cycles nightly. Humans typically go through about four or five cycles. These are the phases.

Read more
Why do you often find your dog with their tongue out? Here’s what vets say about the ‘blep’
A dog with their tongue out may be cute, but what does it really mean?
A German shepherd puppy sticks out their tongue

There's nothing cuter than a "blep" but what does it mean? Whether you first heard the term blep on the internet (it is meme-worthy, after all), or are learning of it for the first time, you're in for a treat. Bleps are positively adorable! The term started gaining online traction in the late 2010s, though it's no less popular today. The common canine behavior it's based on, however, is a habit as old as time: sticking out a tongue. Yep, a dog with its tongue out is enough to break the internet!
It's pretty dang cute, after all, but it's not always easy to figure out why a dog's tongue is sticking out. Don't worry though, pet parents — this is a great place to start! This is everything you need to know about bleps and what they mean.

What is a blep? How about a mlem?
Besides being one of the most popular terms used in pet-related social media, a blep refers to when an animal sticks their tongue out of its mouth only slightly. Braxton's Animal Works describes the action as "leaving the tongue, usually the tip, outside the mouth unconsciously." Many pet owners will notice it while their buddy is sleeping, or even after!

Read more
Is your old dog shaking? 1 of these 6 problems may be the cause
Luckily many of the conditions that cause old dog shaking aren't life threatening
A rhodesian ridgeback with a gray face stands and looks to the side

Some of the smallest breeds of canines — Chihuahuas in particular — are known for their tendency to tremble, but it can be a bit startling when your old dog starts shaking suddenly. Especially if they're a larger breed or have no history of tremors, you might find yourself taking to Google: "Why is my old dog shaking?"
Just like with any health condition, there’s more than one cause for this symptom. Your old dog’s shaking may or may not have anything to do with their age, though it’s not uncommon for older dogs to develop issues that result in tremors. Whatever the cause, you can help your senior pup stay happy and healthy with your keen eye and lots of TLC. If you’re concerned, don’t ever hesitate to contact a trusted vet, either. That's why they're there!

Are weakening muscles the cause of your old dog shaking?
As dogs age, it’s common for them to lose muscle mass — regardless of their diet and exercise regimen. One way weakening muscles present themselves is through instability and shaking, especially in the legs.
You may see your pup’s neck muscles start to atrophy if their head seems to bob or tremble (it may also be time to switch to a lighter collar). A quick checkup from your vet will make sure that your dog isn’t in pain, and they can recommend therapies or medications either way. Every pup has their own journey!

Read more