Tips for walking your dog safely in the snow - and how to look after their paws

Monday, 8th February 2021, 1:08 pm
Updated Monday, 8th February 2021, 1:08 pm

The winter weather can be playful and inviting - but also dangerous for man’s best friend if you don’t take safety precautions.

From huskies to chihuahuas, all types of dogs require extra care and attention in extreme weather conditions and a few simple steps can allow them to enjoy the snow too.

Owners and dog walkers might be concerned about their pooch eating snow, if their paws get cold, and what to do about snow clinging to their thicker winter coat.

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Here are some tips for keeping your four-legged friend safe during the February cold spell while allowing them to have fun in the snow.

Is it safe for dogs to walk in snow?

Dogs can be adventurous, without realising there are potential hazards when playing in the snow or in freezing conditions.

They can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite if they get too cold - but how do you know when the weather is making them uncomfortable?

The vets’ rule of thumb is: ‘if it's too cold for you, it's too cold for them’.

You should therefore stick to shorter walks or walks closer to home when it’s snowing so that you and your dog can get back to the heat of your home quickly should temperatures drop further, or if they become too cold.

If you are walking your dog in a park, try and stick to the path as much as possible to prevent your dog from rolling in the snow and getting cold and wet.

If your dog does play in the snow, take a towel to dry their paws and coat when they are done.

Salt and grit can get in between your dog's toes and irritate their foot pads, so be sure to brush down their paws when you get home or invest in dog booties.

Snow won't irritate their foot pads but their paws can still get cold, as the furry parts don’t have the same protection.

Dogs may also become lost or disoriented when walking in the snow, even if they are familiar with the terrain and path, as their sense of smell is hindered. Therefore, it is best to keep even well-trained dogs on a leash in wintery conditions.

Should I put snow boots and coats on my dog?

Young pups, older dogs and those with health conditions are most susceptible to feeling the cold when it’s snowing outside.

Dog jackets are a great way to keep your dog warm if their coat is short or thinning.

You should buy a machine-washable jacket to get rid of any bacteria on the coat, which could lead to infections.

You could also buy booties to protect your dog from the cold. If you notice your dog lifting up their paws or becoming unwilling to walk in the snow, it could be because their feet are too cold.

Can dogs get sick from eating snow?

For the most part, snow is harmless for a dog to eat as long as it is clean and they don’t ingest too much of it.

The danger comes when a dog eats snow that has been sprayed with antifreeze or ice melt, as this could be toxic.

Eating too much snow has also been known to cause stomach upsets and could lower your dog’s body temperature.

If you dog drools, vomits or becomes irritated after a winter walk this could be because they have licked grit or salt. Symptoms should subside if they drink plenty of water and once their stomach has cleared. If symptoms do not subside, take medical advice from a vet.

Keeping your dog hydrated can be tricky - always ensure their water bowl is clean, the water is room temperature and if they resist, try mixing water with their wet dog food or add some wet dog food to their dry mix.

How do I keep my dog’s fur clean and maintained in the winter?

The condition of your dog’s fur in snow and colder weather is hugely dependent on whether they are a long- or short-haired dog.

Many owners worry about what length their coat should be and this is down to how long you can manage it at. The longer their coat, the warmer they will be.

However, if it gets too long and unmanageable, this can lead to matting and could cause your pooch discomfort.

In the winter, all dogs' coats will get thicker and longer, which is essential to keep them warm and this is their body’s natural way of regulating their temperature.

To keep a short-haired dog’s coat healthy in the winter:

- brush it often

- keep washing to a minimum as this dries the coat out

- enrich their diet with healthy oils (such as oily fish, e.g. sardines)

- make sure they drink enough water

To keep a long-haired dog’s coat healthy in the winter:

- wash your dog’s hair if it looks unkempt or unclean - long hair is more likely to harbour bacteria and dirt.

- brush your dog daily.

- dry your dog off with a towel when they come in from walks in wet, snowy conditions and then allow them to dry fully by keeping the house warm.