Walking Your Dog Through the Winter Months

2 people and 2 dogs walking in the snow during winter

Walking is great exercise for both you and your dog. But getting out for those regular walks with your dog can be a little less appealing during the cold of winter.

Keep up your walking routine this winter with the following tips as well as input from Dr. Kevin Kreier on the risk of injury in slippery conditions.

“How cold is too cold for my dog to go for a walk outside?”

Regardless of the weather, your dog’s exercise requirements remain constant throughout the year. And just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you need to skip your dog’s walking routine entirely.

Consider your dog’s size and coat as well as the outdoor temperature (taking into account wind chill) to know if it’s safe outside for your dog. Shortening your walks in the severe cold is a wise choice. However, sometimes it’s simply too cold for dogs to be outside safely.

Use common sense and trust your gut. Also, know your dog. Be aware of his or her tolerance for cold weather and adjust your walks accordingly.

“What do I need for making winter walks more enjoyable for me and my dog?”

Most dogs can comfortably go for short walks in the cold, but they can benefit from wearing a jacket. In particular, puppies, senior dogs, smaller breeds, and shorter-haired dogs will appreciate a jacket to help keep them warm. Choose a jacket suited for cold temperatures and built for repelling moisture.

Is your dog a puller? Pulling on the leash makes an already challenging walk more dangerous with the slick ground. Try a front clipping harness to minimize pulling and ditch the retractable leash for a solid one. Another option is a hands-free jogger leash that goes around your waist. In the event that you slip and fall, you won’t have to worry about dropping the leash and your dog taking off.

Don’t forget to outfit yourself for winter walks. Invest in a heavy-duty winter coat, dress in layers, wear a hat and gloves, and make sure you have waterproof boots or shoes.

“What hazards should I be aware of?”

Winter can be a particularly dangerous time for your dog. From ice to chemicals covering sidewalks, you and your dog both face hazards when hitting the streets for your regular walks.

“Both you and your dog are in danger of slipping on ice and snow, and a bad slip or fall can lead to serious injury,” says Dr. Kreier. “The sudden twisting motion that occurs when a dog slips on a slippery surface can result in injury to his or her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)."

“ACL injuries are one of the most common orthopedic problems we see in dogs,” continues Dr. Kreier. “Depending on the severity of the injury, your dog’s symptoms might range from a hint of lameness to an inability to bear weight on the injured leg. If your dog has had an accident that may have caused the ligament to tear and you are noticing symptoms of an issue, you will want to bring your dog in for a diagnostic evaluation as soon as possible.”

Another common hazard your dog faces on winter walks is the chemicals on the ground, including ice melts. Your dog is walking through and picking up the ice melts on their paws, legs, and belly. Ice melts can irritate your dog’s skin, and your dog may also lick the chemicals off their feet and ingest them, which can result in stomach and intestinal problems.

Consider outfitting your dog with a set of booties to protect their paws on winter walks. Make sure to wipe your dog’s legs and belly with a wet rag when you return home from your walk (as well as their paws if he or she wants nothing to do with booties).

If you have any concerns about your dog’s health after a winter walk, don’t hesitate to contact us!