by Michelle Wachs
As we hit peak winter weather, you might be wondering, “It’s too cold for me to go outside, so is it safe for my dog?” (See an at-home test.) The answer will vary from dog to dog and weather condition to weather condition. Every dog is different, but more likely than not, your dog is perfectly fine to go outside as long as you’re taking the proper precautions.
There are some dogs that are built to withstand colder climates. Dogs like Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Newfoundlands, German Shepherds and other dogs with thick coats have a much higher tolerance to cold climates and winter weather. In contrast, there are breeds that will absolutely need some sort of body protection, like a coat or sweater. These are generally thinner dogs with fine or no hair like Greyhounds and Whippets.
When temperatures drop below 45º Fahrenheit (7.2ºC), start to pay attention to your dog’s natural response to being outdoors. If they are shivering, lifting/holding their paws up, or look hunched, they are showing signs of being too cold. If they are showing more extreme symptoms like lethargy, weakness, stiff muscles, low heart and breathing rates, lack of coordination, stiff muscles, pale or gray gums, or complete lack of consciousness, those are signs of hypothermia, and they will require immediate care. In mild cases, they’ll need a warm environment and blankets; in more extreme cases, they’ll need immediate vet assistance.
So how can you make sure your dog is safe during these cold months?
1. Invest in boots and warm clothing.
The necessity for coats and/or sweaters will differ from dog to dog depending on their bodyweight, their fur coat, and their personal preference. If your dog starts to shiver when outside, investing in a warm layer might be a good idea.
Although a dog’s paws and ability to withstand colder climates may differ from breed to breed, one thing that is recommended across all dog breeds is to invest in waterproof boots. Some dogs may be able to easily withstand ice and snow, but many cold climate locations use harsh chemicals to break down ice. Those chemicals can be extremely toxic to dogs if ingested and can cause them pain when walking.
2. Keep a towel on-hand, and wipe their feet after every walk.
If you do not have access to boots for your dog, you’ll want to make sure their paws are wiped every time they come inside. If there is a significant amount of chemical snow melt, you may need to wipe them during walks as well. Some dogs may have remaining residue on their paws, which can be toxic if ingested and can cause their paws to dry out.
It’s also recommended to wipe their paws dry, even if they wear boots. The remaining moisture on their feet often dries their paws out once they return to a warm internal temperature, and salts may still be present.
3. Continuously moisturize their paws.
It’s recommended that you keep your dog’s paws well-moisturized during these cold months, as dry/cracked paws are very common. Heat inside the home also tends to create a dry environment. In order to combat this, make sure your dog has access to water throughout the day and that you’re using a petroleum jelly or other paw balm/protectant as regularly as possible before heading outdoors.
This will help protect their paws from salt and chemicals and help prevent dried/cracked paws. If you do not have access to boots or your dog refuses to use them, it’s suggested that you apply a balm or gel before going outside.
4. Shovel a clear path to the bathroom.
Just like there are many dogs that absolutely love the snow, there are a lot that don’t. Ultimately, they all have to have access to a safe place to relieve themselves. So, the solution? Create a shoveled path. This will give our smaller companions a much safer space to go out when needed, and it will save you the pain of removing balls of snow from your big fluffy friend.
5. Decrease time spent outside.
Oftentimes, the outdoors are just as cold for you as it is for our four legged friends. So, if the cold has you wanting to spend more time indoors, your dog likely feels the same way. It is not recommended to keep dogs outdoors all day as hypothermia is a very real risk. Again, every dog is different and will require different levels of exercise and outdoor time; however, the more indoor exercise you can provide during more extreme weather, the better.
Time outdoors also applies within your car. Try to refrain from leaving your dogs inside of your vehicle during these cold months. Your car will often hold in the cold and act almost as a refrigerator, which can cause animals to freeze.
6. Have a worst-case scenario plan.
Winter can be unpredictable, and winter storms can be unbearable. Extreme weather can often lead to power outages, closed roads, and decreased access to supplies and resources. So plan ahead! Stock up on dog food just as you’d stock up on your own food. Have a decent supply of wood and/or blankets available for you and your dog in case of power outages. And last but not least, have a first-aid kit ready.
Even if you’ve followed all precautions, it’s common for the cold to cause dry, cracked paws and for the snow to facilitate dry skin patches and/or rashes. We recommend having a tube of Lavengel® with you while traveling and leaving one in your dog’s first-aid kit. A small dot of Lavengel® rubbed into a wounded or irritated spot 2-3 times per day will immediately relieve the pain, offer relief for hours, and start the healing process upon contact.
Lavengel® is made up of natural ingredients and has proven to decrease the need for a vet visit for most skin irritations and small wounds—which comes extra handy during this time of year when road closures are much more common.
Let us know how these tips have worked for you - you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or via social! To learn more about Lavengel® and its benefits for your dog, please visit lavengel.com. You can also find Lavengel® on Amazon.