November 15, 2023

Cold Weather Gear: Preparing Your Dog for Winter Walks

As Christmas and the winter months approach, we are faced with shorter days and longer nights, and with that in mind, there are several things you should consider whilst walking your dog during the colder weather.

Should your dog wear a coat during the winter?

Just as we feel the cold, so do our dogs. Particularly those with short coats who are more prone to hypothermia and frostbite. Consider a good quality coat for your dog to help keep them warm and safe through those winter walks.

Ensure your dog remains visible during those walkies in the dark; reflective coats or collars are very good for this as the light from vehicle headlights or street lamps bounces off them and so they are very effective, particularly if you cannot avoid doing some road-walking. You can also purchase flashing collars/ tags to attach to the collar, again alerting others as to the presence of your dog in their vicinity. Additionally, check that your dog is microchipped (a legal requirement) and is wearing a name tag with your phone number on it, should he get lost in the dark.

Should you carry a torch on dog walks?

Carrying a small torch is also very useful to help highlight pathways, identify you and your dog as pedestrians to traffic, and also to enable you to continue to pick up your dog’s poo effectively.

A torch will also help you to identify any potential hazards in the path of your dog, such as discarded food or vapes, helping to keep them safe.

Should you check your dog's paws after a walk in the winter?

There may be salt/grit spread onto roads and pavements too at this time of year - and this in itself is a potential hazard for your pets as the chemicals used in de-icers can cause chemical burns to animal’s paws/pads. For this reason, it is a good idea to wash off and dry your dog’s feet when you get home from a walk where grit is likely to have been spread. 

Just as our hands are prone to chapping and cracking in the cold, dog’s paws are just the same, so take time to regularly check your dog's paws, if they are prone to this problem, there are various balms/waxes which can be applied to the paws to try and prevent them from cracking. Doggy boots are also available which provide the next level up of protection, although some dogs do find these cumbersome and irritating.

Dogs with long coats often have very furry feet too! This means that they are very prone to developing clods of ice or snowballs stuck onto their feet when they are walking in cold, wintery conditions, and this can be pretty uncomfortable for them. Trimming the fur from around your dog’s feet regularly will help to prevent this.

Is anti-freeze toxic for dogs?

Drivers may be topping up their cars with anti-freeze at this time of year too. Antifreeze contains the chemical ethylene glycol which is extremely poisonous to dogs and cats and can cause fatal damage to their kidneys and nervous system. Unfortunately, it tastes very sweet making it attractive to animals, which is why you should never let your dog drink from any puddles near cars, or on driveways, which may be from leaks or spillages of antifreeze. Try and always buy antifreeze with bittering agents added to make it less appealing, and mop up any spillages as soon as possible. If you think your dog may have ingested some antifreeze, contact your vet immediately as the sooner treatment is initiated, the better the prognosis, but bear in mind, the effects of antifreeze ingestion are often sadly fatal.

Is rat/mouse bait toxic for dogs?

Look out for any rat/mouse bait that may be put down at this time of year. Rodenticides contain chemicals which are often highly toxic to dogs and can cause internal bleeding, kidney failure, organ damage and even death if consumed by your dog. Worryingly, they often have a palatable flavour, as they are designed to be attractive to rodents, but unfortunately, this also makes them attractive to dogs.

If you suspect your dog has eaten some bait, then contact your veterinary surgery/out-of-hours surgery immediately as they must receive medical attention right away. Try and provide the vets with as much information as possible about the bait such as the name of the product (if known) and the amount consumed. In many cases, vomiting will be induced, which is why it is so important to seek urgent veterinary care before the chemicals in the bait are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Should dogs go on frozen water?

Be mindful of frozen bodies of water too such as lakes and ponds. In the UK, the ice on the surface is likely to be pretty thin, so even a small dog can easily “go through” the ice, resulting in hypothermia and drowning. Never attempt to rescue your dog yourself if they have fallen through the ice as this will put you in danger too - so in the event of this happening, contact the emergency services immediately.

Although we have highlighted some of the most common hazards of a winter walk for our dogs, it’s not all doom and gloom. Increased time spent snuggling up together by the fireplace, or in front of the TV on those long winter nights allows for great bonding opportunities and a chance to become very familiar with what is “normal” for your dog, therefore making it easier to tell if something is amiss with your pooch. Plus, there is always the Spring to look forward to!

Sources

Winter dangers to dogs | Dog health | The Kennel Club

Dogs in Winter | Blue Cross

Dog Winter Safety Tips | Dog Advice for Cold Weather | Dogs Trust

Keeping Pets Safe in Cold Weather | RSPCA

Six Winter Hazards Dog Owners Need To Be Aware Of | Vets Now (vets-now.com)

Medically reviewed by:

Miss Joy Sarah Helen Howell

DipAVN(Surgical) RVN EA SQP