Winter walks with your dog

golden retriever dog jumps in the snow

Going for a stroll in the snow with your dog? Be sure to keep him comfy and safe.

There’s something exciting about the first snowfall. It refreshes the senses and beckons us outdoors. Before setting out on a winter adventure with your dog, remember his well being. You can bundle up in a cozy coat, gloves and boots, but what about him? Will he be comfortable, and safe? These winter walking tips will help you both enjoy the cold weather!

Consider his coat

Your dog’s breed and coat has an influence on how long he can stay outside in cold, snowy weather. Those with thick double coats such as the Alaskan malamute, Siberian husky and great Pyrenees can withstand being outside in harsh conditions for quite some time before calling it a day. But single coated breeds such as boxers and greyhounds don’t have an insulating undercoat and can start feeling the cold much sooner. They lose body heat very quickly and are at a higher risk for hypothermia. Single coated small or toy breeds fare worse still. Their smaller body mass means they lose heat more quickly than larger dogs. On very cold days, keep walks short for a small and/or single coated dog, or buy him some protective outerwear.

Body heat

Young puppies and older dogs don’t retain body heat the way adults in their prime do. They should be brought indoors after about ten minutes.

Snow sense

More dogs get lost in winter than in summer. They can become disoriented in blizzards and the falling snow quickly covers the scent of their tracks. Many older dogs have reduced hearing, vision and cognitive function, so it’s best to always keep them on a leash when it’s snowing.

Health check

Ailments such as hypothyroidism reduce a dog’s ability to tolerate cold. Arthritic dogs also feel more discomfort from damp or cold air, while their limited mobility increases the risk of falling on slippery ground. Dogs with heart conditions such as mitral valve disease may suffer a life-threatening event if overexerted while negotiating difficult walking conditions

Icky ice

Many dogs love to eat snow. This isn’t an issue in itself, but what’s underneath the snow might be. Carefully supervise your dog when walking, and don’t let him eat snow or lick ice.

Frozen solid

A dog of any age should be leashed if you are walking near a frozen pond, river or lake. In his haste to chase the brazen rabbit who dares cross his path, he could dash onto thin ice
and fall into the frigid water.

Low sodium

Depending on where you live, road salt can be a major issue in winter. It can burn your dog’s pads and cause significant discomfort. Avoid heavily salted areas, wipe your dog’s feet with a damp cloth when you get home, or invest in a set of dog boots.

Knowing the signs

The thermometer doesn’t need to drop below freezing for a dog to get chilled. Even cold wind and rain can cause hypothermia in some breeds. Hypothermia is the loss of core body temperature. A body temperature even a few degrees lower than 99oF can be life-threatening. Shallow breathing, shivering, weakness and lack of coordination are all signs of hypothermia — dogs that have passed the shivering stage are in a critical state and need medical attention immediately.

Cut it short

Even the hardiest of breeds can be at risk during really extreme weather. During severe storms, and/or when the thermometer dips below -17°C and conditions are at their harshest, keep walks short or stay inside until the weather is more favourable.

Frost fears

Frostbite is a risk during very cold weather, especially if it’s windy. Frostbite describes skin tissue damaged from exposure to sub-zero temperatures. Signs include swelling, irritation and pale-coloured skin. Veterinary treatment is necessary so the tissue can warmed slowly without causing further damage. Although exposed, a dog’s nose contains many blood vessels and is least likely to get frostbitten. But upright ear tips, paws and even tails can freeze. If the forecast warns of wind chill, be mindful how long your dog remains outside.

Invest in the right gear!

Outerwear for dogs has evolved in leaps and bounds over the last several years as manufacturers recognize that not all breeds can use the same “one size fits all” garments. A Labrador retriever may need an extra layer of warmth on a particularly cold day, but a down-filled snowsuit wouldn’t be the best choice. For a greyhound, a snowsuit is a welcome invention! Not only does it keep his legs and joints warm, but it protects his torso and internal organs as well.

Make sure the outerwear you buy is matched to your dog’s specific needs and fits properly. Choose a durable good quality product that’s wind and waterproof but also made from material that breathes.

Doggie boots provide traction on slippery surfaces and are a fantastic way to protect sensitive paws. Boots prevent snow from collecting between toes and protect against sharp ice, road salt, wetness and cold. Most dogs will adjust quickly to wearing boots. After a few trial sessions, they’ll accept the boots and come to learn they make their feet feel good!

As long as you understand your dog’s needs, and respect the elements, you can both enjoy everything Mother Nature throws at you during the winter!


Tessa Kimmel has over 25 years' experience in animal care and own MedPet & Cozy Critters Pet Care Services, a Toronto business specializing in care for animals with medical conditions and special needs. She also works part time as a veterinary technician and shares her home with an assortment of special needs kitties. Tessa enjoys writing on pet care for a number of publications, including Animal Wellness Magazine.