Winter Walks and Romps in the Snow: Tips for Making Winter Safe and Fun for your Dog

The weather has been it's usual weirdness here in PA.  We are finally experiencing temps in the teens and some snow. Of course it will be 30 degrees warmer tomorrow..I mentioned we live in PA right?  Regardless of where or what your winters are like it is crucial that your dog still gets exercise. 

Dogs need physical activity every day, or else they are at risk of becoming stressed, under-stimulated and overweight. If you don’t provide your pup with outlets for energy, they may develop behavioral problems such as whining, excessive barking, digging, chewing, biting or playing too rough.  We at Geartac Systems love winter but know it can be a challenge to walk your dog or even to know when or how to get them outside when Jack Frost brings the snow and ice.  

    Winter Pet Care

    • When walking your dogs during bad weather, keep them on leash. It’s easier for a dog to become lost in winter storm conditions — more dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season. (And don’t forget to microchip and put ID tags on your dogs and cats!) The Geartac K9 Hands Free Walking System is a great way to keep you and your dog safe when out walking in the cold.  Gloves and Mittens make it hard to truly hold onto your leash effectively but are so necessary in frigid temps.
    • Leash your pets if you have frozen ponds, lakes or rivers nearby, as loose pets can break through ice and quickly succumb to hypothermia before trained ice-rescue personnel can arrive. Never try an ice rescue of a pet yourself — leave that to trained professionals.  That sounds scary!! Better to keep your dog safely attached to you with the Geartac K9!!
    • When taking your pets out for a bathroom break, stay with them. If it’s too cold for you to stand outside, it is probably also too cold for your pets. Here is an informative chart outlining how cold is too cold for your pup.

    While there’s not one right answer for an exact safe outdoor temperature for your dog, here are some tips to keep in mind:

    • It’s important to know how much the wind chill lowers the feel of the actual temperature.  You should always go by the temperature with the wind chill included.
    • If it is snowing and it is especially wet snow, it can be more uncomfortable.  Body temperatures will lower much faster with any type of moisture.  You should shorten your walk time in those types of conditions.
    • Most healthy medium or large dogs can walk for 30-minutes if the temperature is above 20 degrees F.  Smaller dogs should limit the walk to 15 or 20 minutes if temps are between 20 to 32 degrees F.  If it’s below 0 degrees, no dog should be out for a walk. 

    Your dog’s age, breed, and health are all major factors as well.  Remember that puppies and elder dogs are much more sensitive to the cold weather because their bodies can’t regulate their body temps well.  If it’s below freezing, these dogs should be taken outside to eliminate only.

    Different breeds have better tolerance to winter weather.  While no dog should be left out in the cold alone, breeds like German Shepherds, St. Bernards, and Akitas have thick coats that help protect them from the elements.  Small dogs and short-haired dogs need a sweater or jacket for the added protection and warmth.

    Any physical conditions like arthritis or hip dysplasia will only be aggravated by the cold.  We just had Darby at the Vet last week.  We thought she had a sustained a leg injury walking on the ice but it turns out she suffers from mild arthritis and dysplasia.  Armed with new knowledge about the cold and a few doses of anti inflammatory meds and joint supplements and our Girl is back to adventure and exploring even if sometimes it is only in the backyard.

    The best piece of advice I gleaned from the article a lot of this info is taken from by John Reh for Dogs Love Running is to know your dog - pay attention to the signals they are giving you.  If they are shivering, standing in a hunched position, lifting their paw(s) off the ground, or giving you verbal cues (like whining or barking); bring them inside.  More serious signs are things like lethargy, weakness, or slowed breathing which are all signs of hypothermia.  Keep an eye out for frostbite as well.  The most common places this will effect is their tail, paws, and ear tips.  If they are turning pale or blue, get your dog to a veterinarian.

    Bottom line, don’t let the cold weather keep your dog from getting exercise.  You may have to limit your regular walk to only 5 or 10 minutes, but make sure to get them outside even if it’s just for a little bit when the weather is appropriate.  If the weather isn’t cooperative, make sure they are getting sufficient potty breaks and find other activities indoors to keep their minds and bodies active.

    Final Precautions

    • Salt and de-icers: Please remember many people use powerful salt and chemicals on their sidewalks to combat ice buildup. Thoroughly clean your pets’ paws, legs and abdomen after they have been outside, to prevent ingestion of toxic substances and to prevent their pads from becoming dry and irritated. Signs of toxic ingestion include excessive drooling, vomiting and depression.

     I hope this information helps you.  Winter doesn't have to be agonizing dog walks or filled with dread.  Enjoy your time and check out all of the great gear on our website to make the journey with your dog safe and fun!

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