7 min read

How To Protect Your Dog In The Winter

Here’s how to keep your pup healthy when cold weather sets in ❄️

Winter means scenic snowy landscapes and holiday cheer, but along with the eggnog there are less pleasant wintry associations, like chapped, dry skin, flu season and slippery sidewalks. These cold weather concerns can affect all members of your family — including the furry ones.

While your pup might be dying to jump in that fresh snow bank, a little extra vigilance on the part of the owner can go a long way in ensuring that your dog stays safe and healthy during the winter months, explains Dr. Rachel Barrack, a New York City-based veterinarian.

Here are a few safety precautions every pet owner should know about when the weather gets chilly:

Before a winter walk

When the temperature drops outside, companion animals have different needs depending on their breed, age and size. “Some dogs with long, thick coats enjoy the colder temperatures while smaller, thin-coated dogs do not tolerate the cold as well,” Barrack tells The Dodo.

Dog coats and sweaters can be useful for protecting pups who have trouble retaining body heat. Even if your dog does not require an additional coat for warmth, it’s recommended that you strap on some booties, which are more of a necessity than an accessory, before your dog heads outside, to prevent freezing pavement, salt and other chemicals from irritating their paw pads.

“The salt used to de-ice roads can cause the outer layer of the paw pad to slough off, leaving a sensitive layer of fresh skin that can take days to weeks to properly heal,” Barrack explains. “In addition, if ingested the salt can result in oral and gastrointestinal irritation.”

If your dog will not walk in booties, the ASPCA recommends rubbing petroleum jelly or a paw protectant wax into your pup’s feet before each walk to add a layer of protection and moisturizer.

During the walk

It’s important to use caution whenever bringing your dog outside in cold and freezing temperatures, as icy sidewalks can prove dangerous — especially to older dogs who are not quite as light on their feet.

Pet parents of senior dogs may need to pay more attention during walks across cold, icy terrain, as older pups may slip and fall more easily. “Like human senior citizens, canine senior citizens have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to viral infections such as the flu and bacterial infections,” Barrack explains. “Older dogs are often prone to arthritis, which can worsen in severity as the temperature drops.”

No matter your dog’s age, keep an eye on where your pup is sniffing and licking, as antifreeze is commonly used in the wintertime, Barrack notes, and can leak onto the road or driveway. Even a small amount can be fatal if ingested by a dog or cat, so it’s important to clean up any spills and avoid suspect spots.

When temperatures get really frigid, keep walks short. No pet should be left outside on her own during the winter months, according to Barrack, as all dogs can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. If you’re getting cold, your dog is probably feeling the chill as well.

After a walk

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When returning from a walk, Barrack suggests cleaning your dog’s feet and stomach with warm water to remove any ice and salt that they may have picked up on the street, and toweling your dog’s underside dry.

During really cold weather the ASPCA recommends keeping full baths to a minimum, so as to not remove natural oils that keep your dog’s skin from drying out (or, if you must clean them, use a moisturizing shampoo for sensitive skin). Your pup may be a bit smelly — but at least they won't be itchy!

For those long winter nights, dogs need a comfortable, non-drafty place to sleep, Barrack notes, with a blanket to burrow under if they so choose. “Dog beds should be placed inside in warm, dry areas,” Barrack explains. “Although it may be tempting to offer them an electric blanket to provide additional warmth, it is not recommended. Electric blankets can obtain extremely high temperatures and result in burns to your dog.”

The best solution? Allow your pup to hop in bed with you for a snuggle.