In the same way that we humans have to prepare for winter adventure in the outdoors, dogs benefit from cold-weather preparations. Without proper care, paws can crack, dehydration can set in, or the cold could overcome your little buddy.
Some dog breeds are more susceptible to cold than others; e.g. single coat dogs, like a Maltese, generally have less insulation vs. double coat dogs, like a husky.
In addition to cold temperatures and because of their breeding, many double-coated dogs may inherently handle other aspects of winter better than the former as well. Make sure to talk to your vet if you have any questions about your particular breed.
Either way, depending on your climate and terrain, the following tips will help most four-legged friend stay active all winter.
1. Make sure your dog is physically ready
Have you considered your dog’s actual capabilities? Just the same as with us humans, it’s important to first make sure your dog is up to the challenge. If your dog is too young, their bones may not be strong enough yet to handle extended time outside. Likewise, if they are still small or you have a small breed, they may have a hard time keeping their head above all that powder the mountain got overnight. Alternatively, if your dog is aging, a steep incline or heavy snow may be too taxing for him. Judge your dog’s abilities against the conditions, then keep an eye out to see how they’re faring if you decide they’re ready to get outside. It might be best to even try a practice hike — one with patches of winter conditions or a short trail that’s more full-on — before taking off on a longer outing.
2. Pack snacks and insulated water for your dog, too
Water: The drier air in winter means your friend is probably working up a serious thirst on the trail. Even if they’re the kind that chomp up snowballs, you’ll need to provide extra water to keep them hydrated. Make sure you bring along a bowl for them to drink from and keep water in an insulated bladder or insulated bottle so it doesn’t freeze on the trail.
Snacks: Lots of snow? Your dog is probably burning a lot more energy than usual. All the jumping in and out of snow burns a lot of calories, so make sure you pack enough to account for the extra hunger that will ensue.
3. Get ‘em geared up
Boots and jackets are not just for humans. Even if your dog is built for winter, they’ll still benefit from specialized gear created for their unique needs. For example, if you’ll be in an area where salt might come in contact with their pads, or traction is needed because there’s ice or hard snow on the trail, try dog booties. These assist with protecting against harsh elements; some even provide extra insulation for those that live in especially cold climates.
If your dog has short hair or is a single-coat breed, consider grabbing an insulated dog jacket to protect them against the cold. I used to laugh when dog owners got clothing for their pups — that is until I brought my own dog ice climbing and he ended up in my down jacket due to how much he was shivering. Keep your dog your dog out of your down and into his own: This is an investment that’s worth it for both you and your buddy.
4. Take breaks to clean the snow off
If you’re out in snowy conditions and not using booties or jackets, bring along a cloth or comb to remove snow and ice buildup. Take a break at least midway through your outing (or more if accumulations are more rapid) and wipe the snow from between your pet’s toes and pads. Look along the belly for snow or ice build up as well and comb it gently out, or try to gently break it up with your hands. Then give a rub down with a dry cloth to remove extra moisture if possible. Repeat as necessary.
In addition to manually removing snow from your pup’s paws, you might make a DIY “Paw Protector” to help protect pads and shed snow and moisture while playing in winter conditions.
5. Wash and moisturize
After all the fun from the day has subsided and you’re back home where it’s warm, give your dog a good wash — especially the paws — to any salt and dirt off. Rub some dog-friendly balm into the pads of your pet’s feet to help prevent and heal rough, chapped paws. (Make sure the ingredients are made for dogs since they may lick that area!)
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