Annie, my dog, and I are gearing up for a winter season in the Italian Alps. Whilst I arrange snow shovels and snow tyres for myself, I am also making sure I have all the right gear to ensure Annie has a great time too.
If you have a dog, it can be wonderful to see them romping in the snow for the first time but harsh winters can be tough for our four-legged friends too. So, we thought it would be useful to provide a list of things to consider at this time of year.
Table of Contents
1. Coats and sweaters can be helpful
This is a time of year that dressing up your dog has a truly practical function. Traditionalists may argue that a dog already has a coat so they don’t need another one. We would explain that certain breeds, puppies, elderly dogs and those with little body fat or a thin coat (such as greyhounds) are much more susceptible to the cold.
My rescue dog Annie is a Breton Spaniel Cross. She is naturally very slim, with little excess body fat and a very fine coat. She really feels the cold and, especially if we are out hiking, can start to shiver if we stop or are somewhere particularly exposed. I find a coat to be really useful on these occasions for keeping her cosy.
Function over fashion is the key here, something well-fitting, practical, warm, waterproof, breathable and allowing freedom of movement is important.
Coats can be tricky to size without trying them on your dog. Each one is cut slightly differently and dog shapes vary greatly. Wide-necked breeds like Pugs or French Bulldogs will need a completely different fit to a Dachshund or a Whippet, for example.
If you can’t get into a shop for a fitting you usually need to, at least, have the back measurement of your dog (from the base of their neck to the end of their back where the tail bone starts).
In the image below Sam is sporting an Equafleece sweater. I am a big fan of these. They are made from Polartec fleece. Whilst not as waterproof as some coats, they are very warm, water repellent and usually provide a nice snug fit. They are also less bulky than many coats and most dogs seem to be comfortable in them. The suit versions cover much of the undercarriage and legs which can help to minimise the snowballing that can occur on some dogs’ fur.
Sam modelling his Equafleece sweater and loving the snow
2. Are boots really ever necessary?
Most people scoff when doggy booties are mentioned. I certainly wouldn’t recommend them for any
fashion sensibility, or to avoid your dog scratching your new oak flooring (yes, I have heard people getting them for this reason), but for dogs out in the snow and ice regularly they can be practical. Dogs’ pads can take a pounding if subjected to ice, grit and snow over long periods and this can result in them becoming uncomfortable or having cracked pads. Boots are often worn by mountain rescue dogs in the snow for exactly this reason.
The mountain rescue dogs often use Ruffwear Boots. They are excellent quality with Vibram soles but they are expensive. For a less durable but more affordable option you could try Pawz disposable boots.
A lot of dogs, quite understandably, don’t like the feel of the boots initially. You may have seen some of the viral videos of them walking like a robot when first trying them on. If you really feel your dog could benefit from boots, make sure they are a practical set, well-fitting and that you take your time introducing them. Always give a favourite treat when putting them on to keep a positive association with the experience.
3. Is paw balm worth it?
If your dog finds walking on gritted roads uncomfortable, you may want to consider applying some paw wax/balm before and after their walk. This can help create a protective layer and will help to alleviate any stinging the salt may cause. I haven’t tried this with Annie yet but we have heard that Mushers Secret Paw Wax is a well-respected brand with good reviews.
Protect your dogs paws from becoming sore and cracked by applying paw wax
4. How do we deal with walks if we are properly snowed in?
If blizzard conditions hit, it can be difficult to even get out for a proper walk, especially if the pathways have not been cleared and you have a small dog.
Don’t forget there are lots of things you can do indoors to keep your dog stimulated, entertained and enriched so that they are not missing their walks too much.
Playing games such as find the treat, trick training and providing them with treat dispensing toys can help to ensure they will be entertained and tired out without having to get out for a long walk.
Daisy being kept busy with her Chase N Chomp Sticky Bone
5. Wash your dog’s paws after walks on gritted/salted paths
The grit used to keep our paths clear can be toxic to our pets. After a walk, if the grit is caught in your dog’s paws it can be uncomfortable for them. If they try to lick it off, ingesting it can make them ill.
We always recommended thoroughly rinsing your dog’s paws after a walk in these conditions. If they are very sensitive to grit and salt, perhaps using a pair of boots would be worth considering.
6. Keep the anti-freeze out of reach
It might sound like an obvious one but we have seen reports of dogs and cats getting into a garage where anti-freeze has been spilt, licking it up and becoming seriously ill or dying as a result. Just be sensible.
7. Minimise the snowball effect
Certain dogs are prone to having the snow gather on their coats. My two previous Cocker Spaniels were the perfect example. The snow would cling and eventually turn into huge, heavy, uncomfortable balls that would be difficult to get rid of. One year, one of my dogs, Sam, could hardly walk because they had become so big. It was very distressing for him and then very difficult to get them off when home.
We often recommend trimming the fur around your dog’s paws to help alleviate this problem. I also trimmed all the feathering off my Spaniels legs too and I popped them in their little fleece suits to keep the top of their legs and undercarriage covered. We don’t recommend giving a full hair-cut at the coldest time of the year though.
Poor Sam, his hair was at its longest and the snowballs were terrible
8. Be cautious around frozen water
You have likely seen the videos that have gone viral which show dogs that have gone through the ice on frozen water and the rescue attempts that happen as a result.
This is a more common occurrence than you might think. There are also times when the dogs manage to get out unharmed but the owners get into difficulty whilst trying to help.
If you are walking near a known area of open frozen water we would recommend keeping your dog on-leash to avoid any mishaps.
9. Help your dog get out for the loo!
This also may sound obvious, but some people don’t think about it. If you have heavy snow in your garden, get the snow shovel out and make a space for your dog to get out for a pee break. This is especially important for puppies, elderly and small dogs that might struggle to negotiate the deep drifts.
Sam and Daisy, enjoying the snow too much and not wanting to come back in
10. Arthritis can be worse in the cold weather
If your dog suffers from arthritis, don’t forget that the cold weather can make them more uncomfortable. Make sure you keep them extra cosy and that their bed is away from draughts.
Okay, so maybe you don’t have to let them snuggle under your own duvet, like Daisy here, but, keeping an elderly dog cosy is important
11. Bring your dog inside when the weather is very cold
For those of you that may have an outdoor kennel for your dog, or you perhaps keep them in the yard during the day, this is the time of year to make alternative arrangements. When the temperatures plummet, even the hardiest of breeds can find the cold too much. It is different if they have a luxurious heated kennel but, otherwise, make sure they have a warm space to sleep and take shelter.
Being out for a walk, like Daisy, in the freezing temperatures is different to being left out 24/7 when hypothermia and frostbite are real risks
12. Restricted exercise = restricted meals
If you are having a really hard winter and it is difficult to get out for the usual long walks, you may need to consider cutting back your dog’s food portions slightly to avoid them putting on weight. Conversely though, if your dog is doing as much exercise as normal you may find you need to up their rations as the cold conditions mean they burn off more calories.
13. Stay visible
With the long, dark mornings and evenings it is often difficult to avoid walking your dog in the dark.
If you walk beside roads or on cycle paths it can be useful to get some reflective or light up gear for your dog to help increase their visibility.
Reflective collars and vests are widely available in most major stores. Flashing collars or lights can also be really effective too. We like the Niteze lights, shown on Daisy and Sam in the image below..
You can also use flashing balls if your dog likes to play fetch.
Daisy and Sam modelling their, very effective, Niteize LED lights
14. Less off-lead time
We may sound like party poopers with this one. If snow drifts are extremely heavy or there are blizzard conditions, dogs can become more easily disorientated, find it more difficult to hold a scent and are more likely to get lost. In these conditions, we recommend keeping your dog on the lead.
15. Be aware of increased risk around open fires, heaters etc.
At this time of year, we often have the heating on more. Many dogs love to feel cosy and will gravitate towards the heat source. If you have an open fire or a wood burning stove or the likes, make sure you dog proof it. Get a proper fire guard and don’t leave your dog unsupervised around it.
Sam snuggled up in front of the fire. We always made sure the fire guard was up and that he was never left unsupervised when it was on
So, now that you have considered all the more serious elements, get out there and have fun with your dog. We would love to see your snowy dog photos!