Snowy days can mean tons of fun for your four-legged friends, but if you aren’t careful, winter weather can also be hazardous to your dog’s health and safety. Follow The Dog Wizard’s 10 cold-weather tips to keep your best friend safe and comfortable when the temperature drops.

1. Acclimate your dog to the cold gradually

Although some dogs seem to enjoy time outdoors when the days grow chilly, you should never let your dog spend an extended period of time in the cold without building up to it. Start by letting your pup out for short durations and slowly work up to longer cold-weather playtime sessions as it acclimates to the lower temperatures. No matter how long your dog stays outside, it’s important to watch for signs of discomfort such as shivering and to pay attention to indications that your pup wants to go in.

2. Keep your home humid

As your dog goes in and out throughout the day, the transition from the cold outdoor weather to the heat in your home can be drying to its skin, causing itching, flaking, and cracking. Your pup needs external hydration to keep its skin and coat healthy. By running a humidifier regularly, you can reduce dryness indoors, protecting your dog’s vulnerable nose and the pads of its paws from cracking and bleeding. A pet drinking fountain can also be a great way to add moisture to your home while enticing your pet to stay hydrated as well.

3. Don’t cut your dog’s hair too short

Your dog’s coat is designed for warmth and to offer protection from the elements, so don’t opt for a short haircut or a shave during the winter months. Clipping your dog’s fur too short can make it harder for it to maintain its body temperature when exposed to the cold.

For long-haired breeds that require regular haircuts, a simple trim can help prevent the accumulation of snow and ice balls without sacrificing warmth and protection. If you’re grooming during cold-weather months, make sure to clip away excess fur between your dog’s toes to minimize any irritation caused by clinging snow and ice.

4. Make sure your dog has a warm place to sleep

If it’s cold outside, your dog should always have a warm place to sleep indoors. Bedding should be placed away from any drafts and should provide insulation from the cold floor. Adding a cozy fleece blanket to your dog’s bed can provide a place to snuggle down into for extra warmth on really cold nights.

Giving your dog a warm place to sleep is particularly important for older pets or those who have chronic conditions such as arthritis, so make sure your aging pooch has plenty of blankets to keep them toasty.

5. Feed them a little extra

Staying warm when the weather’s cold burns calories, so feed your pet high-quality, nutrient-rich food, and don’t skimp at mealtimes. On blustery days, you can even treat your pup to an extra goodie or two. Your veterinarian can recommend a healthy diet for your furry friend and can help you determine how much food your pet should be eating during cold-weather months. And regardless of what food you choose, always make sure your pooch has access to plenty of clean, fresh drinking water.

6. Wipe off their feet with a towel after walks

During winter walks with your dog, snow can clump on its feet. Once you’ve returned home, use a soft towel to gently remove snow and ice balls from your dog’s paws. Pay special attention to the sensitive area between its toes, where ice and snow can collect and cause discomfort.

It’s especially important to wipe off any traces of ice melt, salt, and other sidewalk residues with a damp towel. Not only can these materials cause skin irritations but if licked off, they can make your dog sick. While toweling off your dog’s feet, you should also check for any cold-weather damage such as cracking or bleeding so you can tend to it quickly.

7. Watch for sidewalk salt or antifreeze

Antifreeze and the chemicals used to deice sidewalks and streets can be hazardous to your four-legged friends. Whenever possible, avoid walking your pet on areas that have been chemically deiced, and opt for pet-friendly ice melts in areas your dog frequents.

Unfortunately, sometimes exposure to irritating chemicals is unavoidable, but there are still ways to protect your pet’s sensitive paws. Booties are one option for keeping its paws protected, but if your dog won’t tolerate foot coverings, a store-bought paw protectant is a great alternative. By massaging petroleum jelly, specially made paw protectants, or moisturizers designed for cow udders onto your dog’s paw pads, you can minimize the risk of irritation from sand, salt, and chemicals.

Another outdoor winter hazard is antifreeze, which can be enticing due to its sweet taste and is lethal to animals. To keep your pet from ingesting this dangerous substance, clean up any spills immediately, monitor your dog closely when walking through parking lots and other public areas and never leave containers open where your pet can reach them. If you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze or coolant, contact your veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic immediately.

8. Don’t neglect exercise

Although it can be tempting to just cuddle on the couch with your pet when the temperature outside drops, exercise is an important part of keeping your dog healthy and happy. Brisk winter walks or a romp in the snow can be invigorating for you and your pooch and can release pent-up energy, which often leads to destructive behaviors such as unwanted chewing.

Pets that don’t tolerate the cold well may benefit from garments such as sweaters, jackets, and booties. If you opt for a sweater, make sure it has a high collar and covers your pooch from the base of the tail to its tummy. If you’d rather avoid the cold weather completely, try training your dog to walk on a treadmill.

9. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog

Without adequate preparation, cold weather can be detrimental or even deadly to your four-legged friend. If they’re left outside for too long, dogs can become disoriented and may even freeze to death. A good rule of thumb is if you’re bundled up in a winter coat and still shivering, it’s too cold for your dog to be outside.

Small and aging dogs can be particularly susceptible to cold weather because they tend to have fewer layers of insulating fat. And regardless of breed or age, in sub-zero temperatures, pets should only be allowed outside for quick potty breaks, and outdoor trips should be restricted to areas that are sheltered from the worst of the elements. If there’s a significant accumulation of snow on the ground, clear a small area where your dog can comfortably relieve itself and quickly return inside.

If your dog can’t seem to warm up after coming inside, a dryer-warmed towel or blanket or a blow dryer set on low can help your pet stop shivering. You can also try filling a clean sock with uncooked rice and gently warming it in the microwave to make a dog-friendly heating pad. Just make sure whatever you use isn’t too hot, and always be careful not to burn your dog’s sensitive nose or paw pads.

10. Bathe them less frequently

Frequent bathing can reduce the essential oils on your dog’s skin, increasing its risk of developing dry, flaky, itchy skin, so don’t wash your pet too often during the winter months. If your pup desperately needs a bath, opt for a mild, moisturizing shampoo, and make sure the water is comfortably warm. Make sure your dog is rinsed thoroughly, and follow up with a high-quality conditioner, which can help replace lost oils and reduce winter dryness. Using a conditioner when bathing can also reduce static and make brushing easier.

After a winter bath, make sure your pup is completely dry before letting it go outside. A hairdryer set to cool or warm can speed up the process.

Keeping Winter Activities Safe and Fun

Ultimately, nobody knows the needs of your four-legged friend quite like you, the owner. By keeping watch over your dog, you can make sure outdoor winter activities are safe and fun for your canine best bud. And, if you need a little help, reach out to The Dog Wizard today to find an experienced trainer near you.