6 Winter Safety Tips for Dogs With Active Lifestyles

Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
By Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
person outside in the snow with their dog

If your family includes a dog who likes exercise and activity, you likely spend lots of time outdoors in all seasons, including winter. However, even among the best dogs for active lifestyles, not all are suited for outdoor play in cold weather.  

If your dog can’t get enough of being in the cold stuff, however, there are things you can do to help keep them safe. When considering exercises to do with your dog in winter, remember these safety tips from one of our expert veterinarians, Dr. RuthAnn Lobos. 

1. Gradually Acclimate Your Dog to the Cold

Start with short sessions outside and slowly increase to give your dog time to adjust to the cold.  

Also, keep in mind the thickness of your dog’s coat and their age, as puppies and senior dogs have a harder time regulating their body temperature. A good rule of thumb is: If it’s too cold for you in your winter coat, it’s too cold for your dog.  

According to Purina veterinarian Dr. RuthAnn Lobos, “The key is acclimation. If they seem fine and aren’t shivering or trying to get in, it’s perfectly fine for them to stay outside for longer periods as long as they’re building up to it.”  

Once you’ve acclimated your dog and prepared for cold weather, continue to let them spend time exercising outside. Looking for new exercises to do with your dog? Build a small agility course out of piles of snow. If conditions are too cold or icy, consider an indoor gym for dogs or give them a puzzle feeder or play indoor games to keep them busy

2. Make Taking Care of Business More Efficient

Try shoveling a patch of grass so your dog has a spot to go right away. If there are areas with more protection from snow, ice and wind, encourage your dog to go there instead. Give treats after to reinforce the good behavior and discourage accidents inside. 

3. Watch Out for Rock Salt and Antifreeze

Rock salt isn’t toxic, but it may upset your dog’s stomach if ingested and can irritate their paws.  

Antifreeze tastes sweet but is toxic. Look for blue- /or green-colored substances on driveways, sidewalks and cars and keep your dog away from those spots.  

Wipe off your dog’s paws before they come inside to remove any salt or antifreeze residue they might lick off. This will also warm their paws faster. 

4. Know How to Warm Up Your Dog

If your dog seems cold, cover them with a towel or blanket. You can also use a blow dryer on a low setting, but don’t heat their paw pads as they could burn.  

Instead, heat up some rice in a sock to place near their pads (place against your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot). If you know your dog gets cold easily, stock up in advance on sweaters, coats, and booties. 

5. Protect Your Dog’s Paws, Especially When Exercising

To protect your dog’s paws in winter and prevent cracked pads, try putting your dog in booties. Otherwise, clean their paws every time they come inside. 

For cracked paw pads, use a moisturizer made for cow udders to soothe your dog’s paws. After applying, keep them busy with a puzzle feeder or treat so they don’t lick it off immediately.  

6. Provide the Fuel Your Dog Needs for an Active Winter Lifestyle

Staying active (and warm!) in colder weather takes energy, so it’s important to feed your dog a quality food to help power winter exercise. Pro Plan Sport formulas provide a protein-to-fat ratio that helps fuel dogs’ metabolic needs and maintain lean muscle, to keep them moving during cold weather activities.  

By following these tips, you and your dog can share time enjoying winter weather. If you have specific questions about your dog and winter exercise, talk to your veterinarian.  

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