Tips for walking your dog in winter

16 Aug 2019

Despite the rainy and cold winter weather, most dogs still require a daily walk. This article outlines signs to watch out for that may indicate your dog is too cold and tips on how to make exercise during this time safe and enjoyable for your pet.

The risks of walking your dog in winter

The major risk of walking your dog in winter is that they become too cold and develop hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body loses more heat than it can produce and core body temperature becomes abnormally low.

The body’s organs become unable to function properly and can become life-threatening if severe and left untreated. Hypothermia can occur for a number of reasons, however, commonly it is due to exposure to low temperatures and/or the elements e.g. wind and rain.

Some dogs may also develop skin infections (dermatitis) - occasionally known as ‘rain scald’ - if they have become wet and are incompletely dried. A dog’s coat is designed to prevent water from getting to skin level easily. However, once the skin becomes completely wet, the coat can actually trap water, creating a perfect moist environment for bacteria and fungus to grow. This can also happen in the skin between a dog’s toes when they are left wet and muddy. The best way to avoid this is to ensure their entire coat is dry, not just the top layer and wipe their feet.

Conditions such as joint inflammation (osteoarthritis) which is common in older pets, can become exacerbated in the cold. So, if your dog is affected you may need to shorten their walk on colder days.

Should I get my dog a winter jacket?

Most dog breeds do develop a thicker coat over winter. This is particularly true for breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies whose coats are designed for extreme conditions. Dogs with longer hair, such as Golden Retrievers and Labradors are also able to stay warmer.

However, dog breeds with short hair, even if they do develop a winter coat are not able to protect against colder temperatures. Examples of these breeds include: Whippets, Greyhounds, Jack Russell Terriers, Dachshunds and French Bull Dogs. These breeds benefit from a winter jacket in the cold.

Regardless of coat length, jackets may also be beneficial in dogs who are very thin or have low muscle mass, which make them more likely to lose body heat quickly. Dogs suffering osteoarthritis can benefit from a jacket that keeps major joints warm (e.g. the hips, shoulders and spine).

It is important to ensure the jacket fits appropriately, does not rub your pet’s skin and is always removed quickly if it becomes wet.

How cold is too cold?

It is important to be guided by your dog’s behaviour. What is too cold for one dog may vary in comparison to another and can be affected by weight, age and coat length.

Signs that your dog is too cold include:

  • Shivering
  • Heat-seeking e.g. hiding under shelter
  • Barking, whining or becoming anxious
  • Tucking tail between legs and hunching their back
  • Not wanting to continue walking/exercising

Summary of tips

  1. Keep your dog dry.
  2. Dry your dog completely and quickly if they become wet.
  3. Wipe and dry muddy wet paws.
  4. Fit your dog with an appropriate winter jacket.
  5. Always monitor your pet for signs of being too cold.

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