Winter can be difficult for people and their pets, especially if you’re cooped up indoors for weeks or months at a time. The shorter days, cold weather, and lack of exercise can lead to boredom and irritability—for both you and your dog. January is Walk Your Dog Month, so it’s a great time to get some exercise and take your dog for a walk!

Dogs need a lot of exercise, even in the winter. It helps manage their weight, helps with digestion, provides mental stimulation, and can even help with arthritis. Exercise is also important for releasing energy, which could otherwise lead to boredom and destructive habits like digging or chewing. Plus, exercise is good for your own overall health and well-being!

There are plenty of different activities to keep your pet entertained indoors, but taking a short walk can help keep things interesting. Being outside gives your dog the opportunity to explore a variety of different smells, sounds, and sights that provide much-needed mental stimulation.

Here are a few tips to keep your dog safe and comfortable on your cold winter walks!

  • Make sure your dog is warm enough. Some dogs may need an extra layer of insulation, like a coat or sweater. This is especially important for short-haired dogs, puppies, and dogs that are old or have arthritis. Aging pets and pets with certain health conditions can have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and the cold can make arthritis even more painful for pets.
  • Winter can be hard on a dog’s feet. The salt and chemicals that people often use to melt ice can irritate a pet’s feet and cause cracked paw pads. You can protect your dog’s paws by putting dog booties on his feet and washing his paws after walking.
  • If your dog won’t wear booties, you can protect his feet with a pet-safe paw wax or gel. After your walk, you should wipe off his paws to remove the wax and any de-icers. Making sure the hair between his toes is trimmed short will help prevent snow and ice accumulation.
  • Keep your walks short and stay home if it’s very cold. If your dog starts whining, licking his paws, or shivering, it’s time to go home and warm up!
  • Walk during daylight hours when the sun is out and the temperature is warmer. If you’re walking in the morning or evening, you can help ensure that others can see you and your dog by wearing reflective or brightly colored clothing and gear. You can also increase your visibility by wearing flashing lights.
  • Make sure your dog isn’t licking anything off the streets or sidewalks. Many chemicals used during the winter, like antifreeze and ice melt, can be dangerous to your dog if ingested.
  • Make sure your dog doesn’t get too cold. Common signs of hypothermia in dogs include shivering, skin that is cold to the touch, lethargy, and trouble walking.
  • Frostbite is another common winter issue. It usually affects a dog’s nose, ears, foot pads, or tail. Frostbitten skin is pale, cold, and hard; after the tissues start to thaw, they may become red and inflamed. Call your veterinarian if you think your dog might have frostbite. It’s important to ensure your dog doesn’t lick or scratch at frostbite because it can lead to infection.
  • Be careful around partially frozen bodies of water, like lakes and rivers. It’s best to avoid letting your dog walk on them. Keeping your dog on a leash can help keep him safe and off the ice.
  • Many people don’t think about dehydration during the winter, but dogs can still become dehydrated in the cooler months. You can help keep your dog hydrated by ensuring he has access to fresh water during and after a walk.
  • Having up-to-date identification is always important, but especially during the winter when the cold and snow can make it difficult for your dog to find his way home.

Walking your dog in the winter is more work, but it is so beneficial. By taking a few extra precautions, pet owners can help ensure their dogs are safe and comfortable. Happy walking!