We all know just how important it is for our dogs to get their exercise. While the activity of walking keeps our pups healthy (and people too), it is important to pay attention to the weather and take extra precautions when the pavement is dusted with snowflakes. Just like humans bundle up for a walk when the weather turns frosty, there are steps you can take to ensure your dog has an enjoyable and safe walk in the snow.
Even a thick-coated German Shepherd feels the cold, especially on bare paws. You can find dog boots at most pet stores that will keep their feet warm and dry. If your dog simply won’t tolerate boots, there are gels specifically designed to protect against the cold ground, and petroleum jelly is a safe alternative to such gels. Try to keep your dog on shoveled sidewalks where you can see any debris or sharp objects that might damage a dog’s paw if stepped on. Rock salt and other chemicals used on ice can be harmful to the paws, resulting in harsh burns. Even if a burn does not occur, the salt can become lodged between the toes, in the fur, around the nails, and in any cracks that may have already been on the paws which can lead to infections. If it is impossible to avoid areas that use such methods to get rid of ice (and your dog absolutely will not wear anything on his or her feet), there are some steps you can take. Keep the hair between the toes trimmed short to keep snow from clumping together, possibly trapping salt. Before starting out on a walk, make sure there are no open sores or cuts on the skin. Dry and cracked skin can be treated with a variety of pet-safe ointments, but should be allowed to heal before returning outside without some sort of protecting layer. Even if you take preventative measures, there is still a chance your dog may come in contact with road salt. If this does happen, make sure your dog doesn’t lick the area. Gently remove the salt and snow with a wet, warm towel. Do not apply heat such as a hot towel or an electric blanket; this can cause a thermal burn to paws that might already be suffering from a chemical burn. Applying more snow can possibly lead to more exposure and more harm. Treatment following exposure will vary based on the severity of the injury and is best determined by a knowledgeable veterinarian.
After every walk in the snow, wipe down the paws, the belly, and the legs. This will prevent any salt from drying and causing further irritation. Keep an eye out for licking. If your dog tries to lick at his feet, it might be a sign that they are irritated and that you need to take a closer look. If the paw is bleeding, discolored, or your dog won’t put weight on it, it is time to call your vet. Also check if the skin is hard, pale, and cold even after staying inside for more than half an hour, these could be signs of frostbite. It is very important to call a vet immediately if these signs occur.
It is especially important for puppies, elderly dogs, dogs with arthritis or other joint problems, dogs with skin conditions, and those with short fur to have proper attire for the snow. While it might seem silly, a dog sweater or jacket will keep your dog’s body warm. Like a collar or harness, the dog will be more comfortable in a properly fitting sweater. Make sure the dog’s breathing is not restricted and movement is easy for all the legs and the tail. If you are driving to a walking location, a towel or blanket can be placed in the car to wipe away snow and ensure a warm trip home.
In cold weather, it can be hard to remember to hydrate even ourselves. While running in the snow, our dogs may forget that water is important especially if it is not easily accessible. Travel water bowls are available at most pet stores and can be kept in a car, a backpack, or attached to a leash. Like any water found on the street, snow is not a safe source of water for our pups. Snow can contain a variety of toxins such as the calcium chloride or sodium chloride found in many ice salts. In cases where proportionally large amounts are ingested, the nervous system is severely affected and takes physical form in seizures, violent muscle tremors, an elevated heart rate, and accelerated breathing. Other problems can include mouth ulcers, diarrhea, vomiting, fainting, and dizziness. Cases that are severe and left untreated can be fatal.
Don’t be afraid to cut a walk short for any reason. Your dog may not be able to tell you when it’s time to go home, but there are some subtle hints you can pick up on. If your dog is lifting his or her paws, shivering, whining, stopping more frequently than normal, or tries to turn back several times, it might be time to cut the walk short. Some dogs tend to shiver when they are scared or nervous, but if your dog continues to shiver, shake, or shows other indications of discomfort once inside, it may be a more serious problem.
Adapting to walks in the snow may be difficult at first, but like anything when it comes to our dogs, it requires a little time and a lot of patience.
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By Callie T.