There’s nothing quite like watching a dog experience snow for the first time. What the heck is all this white stuff? Must dig in and try to gobble it up! But before letting your pet go wild in the snow, make sure you’re taking these safety precautions provided by one of our expert veterinarians.
1. Get Your Dog Used to the Snow Gradually
“The key is acclimation,” says Ruth Ann Lobos, veterinarian and Purina’s Senior Manager of Training. “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.” Start them out with small stints outside so their coats and paws will have time to adjust.
2. Remember that Coldness Depends on the Dog
Puppies will have a harder time regulating their body temperatures outside, and senior dogs can have issues like diabetes or an altered metabolism that can make it harder for them to adjust. Smaller dogs with thinner coats will shiver more than dogs bred to be outside in the cold.
3. Prep Your Dog!
If you notice your dog tends to be cold, stock up on sweaters, coats or dog booties. Some dogs will even get cold indoors! Avoid shaving your pet in the winter and start wiping off your dog’s paws when he comes inside after being outside, especially if he has long hair that will keep the pads of his paws wet.
4. Use Your Intuition
If it’s literally colder than Mars outside (which actually happened in the Midwest last year), limit your dog’s time outside. If a cold wind is penetrating your ski jacket, it’s probably too cold for a dog to play outside for an extended period of time too. And watch the dog for signs of discomfort. Holding up a paw because it’s frozen means it’s time to come in. “If it’s Minnesota cold, 17 and 20 degrees below, you wouldn’t want to stay outside more than 15 or 20 minutes with these guys,” Lobos says.
5. Make Potty Time Quicker and Easier
Try shoveling a patch of grass for your dog to run to during potty time. If they opt to go on the carpet instead, try taking them outside for two or three-minute jaunts and give them a treat every time they come in, just like when you were potty training. This will help incentivize them to learn a new routine. If your regular area is too cold, try a new area with less snow or overhead protection from falling rain or snow.
6. Watch Out for Rock Salt and Antifreeze
Rock salt is going to be everywhere, so try and keep your pet from eating it. It isn’t toxic, but it can upset their stomachs. It may also rub on the pads of their paws to cause irritation. Pet-safe rock salt might be a great option for your home.
Be extra vigilant about keeping your pet away from antifreeze. It tastes sweet, but is extremely toxic. Look out for blue or green-colored substances on driveways, sidewalks and car surfaces.
7. Learn How to Warm Up Your Dog
If your pet seems too cold, try covering them in a towel or blanket. You can also use a blow dryer at the low setting (too high could burn the dog) to warm them up. Avoid heating pads, which could also cause burns, although warming some rice in a sock in the microwave is an excellent and pet-safe alternative. Put it against your wrist first to make sure it’s not too hot.
A dog’s normal body temperature should range from 99.5-102.5 degrees. (To get your dog’s temperature, you’ll need to use a rectal thermometer.)
8. Treat Cracked Pads
Try a moisturizer originally made for cow udders to soothe your dog’s paws. After applying anything to his feet, keep him busy with a puzzle feeder or treat so that he won’t lick it right off. You can try preventing this type of damage by putting your dog in booties or by cleaning off the pads of his feet every time he comes inside.
9. Give Your Dog Plenty of Exercise
It can be hard to get moving with your dog on a cold day, but letting your dog stay idle could lead to destructive or nervous behaviors due to all that pent-up energy. Once your dog is acclimated and prepared for the cold, it’s ok to continue walks and backyard play. You can even build a little agility course in your backyard with piles of snow!
If your area is just too cold, try finding an indoor gym for dogs. Puzzle feeders are also a great option for keeping your dog busy on a long, cold winter day.
Best of luck enjoying the winter snow with the dog you love!