Ask the Experts: Banfield Pet Hospital on Cold-Weather Dog Safety
Romping through the snow with our dog by our side is downright fun. Their exuberance is contagious, and perma-grins are guaranteed – for both dogs and humans.
And because having the right tools for fun and safe winter-time exploration means having the right gear and a solid understanding of cold-weather safety, we turned to our friends at Pacific Northwest-based Banfield Pet Hospital to answer some common questions.
With over 1,000 locations across the country and 18,000 veterinarians and hospital associates, they are an excellent resource. We got to speak with Dr. David Dilmore, who’s been a veterinarian for almost 20 years and is based in Denver, Colorado. He shared his expertise on what to know and what to look for with our dogs while staying active in winter conditions. His dog Derby may be the true snow expert, though, as he’d play in the snow all day long if left to it.
What are some indicators that my dog is cold?
Every dog is different. Some signs that your dog may be cold or uncomfortable may include lethargy, whining, shivering, or anxiety.
Dogs with short coats may need a little help staying warm and can certainly benefit from wearing a jacket. Some dogs have thicker coats sufficient for keeping them warm, but even they can get cold in certain conditions, especially if their fur gets wet from rain or melted snow, or if snow starts to build and ball up on their belly and legs. When that happens, it decreases the fur’s ability to insulate. A jacket can help keep them dry and warm in these conditions.
The important thing is to know your dog, their signals for when they’re cold, and to continually check in with them throughout your activity or as conditions change.
Are there areas that lose more heat than others?
Hairless areas like their belly can get colder a lot quicker. They also lose heat through their paw pads. That’s one reason dog boots can be beneficial.
How else can dog boots help?
In general, dog boots provide a good protective barrier from ice, snow, salts, and chemicals that are used on pavement to melt snow and ice. The rock salt granules used for snowmelt can get trapped up against paw pads and cause irritation.
Without boots, a dog’s paw (especially those with longer fur) can get packed with snow and ice. It can cause cold and irritation, so you may see your dog keep their paw lifted and not want to use it. It’s a good idea to regularly check for and remove packed snow or ice that may be accumulating in their paws throughout your activity. If you don’t, it could lead to some common cold-weather paw injuries, including blistered or cracked paw pads and frostbite.
What is frostbite, and what does it look like with dogs?
Frostbite is a freezing of the tissue. A dog’s ear tips, paws, and end of their tail are particularly susceptible to frostbite. It can look like a pale or gray spot on their skin.
If you think your dog has frostbite, see a veterinarian as soon as possible. One of the biggest things with addressing frostbite is slowly warming up the area using room temperature water rather than warm bath water, which can cause more damage. After it does warm up, it can become very painful and look red and inflamed, or like a blister. You may notice your dog licking the area or trying to rub or scratch at it.
Frostbite can cause significant injury. Something that looks like a small spot can take 2-3 days to fully see the extent of the damage, which is why it’s important to get in touch with or see your veterinarian if you suspect frostbite.
A big part of keeping boots on is cinching them tight. Will their paws fall asleep if I cinch them tight?
It’s pretty difficult to get them too tight because of the nature of these straps (a static hook-and-loop closure vs a stretchy/elastic material). Plus, boots strap on to a bonier part of the leg that’s more protected than doing so further up the leg.
An easy way to see if a boot is too tight is to check for swelling. After you put the boots on, go about your activity and give it about 30 minutes. Then stop, pull the boot off, and see if the paw is swollen. If you don’t see swelling, the boot wasn’t on too tight.
My dog and I are interested in trying some new winter activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Any tips for winter newbies?
Build up to it. Start with shorter adventures at first and work your way up to longer distances or days in the snow. It also gives you a chance to make sure all your dog’s gear is working properly. Keep in mind that different snow conditions can tire a pup out more quickly. Deep powder is harder for a dog to run through and may decrease the distance or time they can be out there.
A little bit of knowledge goes a long way to help you and your pup get the most out of your days spent bounding across snow-covered landscapes. If you have questions or thoughts, let us know in the comments below. If we don’t have an answer now, it may show up in our next Ask the Experts post.
For more information and tips, you can check out Banfield’s online database of articles.