With the winter season now upon us and the dark, cold evenings drawing in, it can be very tempting to reduce the level of exercise you provide for your dog (particularly when you normally undertake the exercise with them!). However, it is vitally important (both for your pet’s waistline and for their cognitive stimulation) that you try to keep their routine of daily walks as familiar as you did during the warmer summer months. Follow our checklist below to help keep your companion as safe as possible on those refreshingly stimulating winter walks!
- At this time of year walking can be a wet and muddy business, so keep a towel handy to rub your dog dry when you get home, or if your companion will tolerate it, you could use a hair drier on a very low setting held some distance from their coat. Moving your dog’s bed to a warm spot in front of a radiator or aga will be appreciated, and once they are dry you can gently brush off any caked-on mud.
- If the winter weather becomes extreme and you do find you have to cut walks with your dog short, keep a close eye on your pet’s weight and body condition score and adjust their dietary ration accordingly. Consider other forms of exercise for your dog – indoor flyball could be a good choice!
- In cold weather – consider using a coat for your dog and if you walk in the dark, a high visibility “doggie-jacket” will prove even safer around traffic. Dog breeds with low body fat or very thin coats, such as greyhounds and whippets, alongside young puppies and older dogs of all breeds are particularly susceptible to the cold.
- Don’t just remember your dog’s safety – but think of your own as well! If possible always try to walk in daylight hours – it is generally much less risky. If you must walk in the dark, wear reflective clothing and carry a torch. When dark, it is never wise to let your dog off the lead unless the area you are in is totally traffic-free (and ideally enclosed).
- In very wintery conditions, boots for your dog’s paws on longer walks will be much appreciated; you may not realise but dogs can get frostbite as well as humans! You will need to gradually train your pet to wear boots, so start now before the really cold spells kick in.
- If you choose not to use boots for your dog and you have been walking on salted paths – take care to gently brush or rinse the salt off your dog’s feet once inside afterwards. Salty paws could otherwise cause serious irritation for your pet’s delicate skin. If you are walking on unsalted paths, prevent snowballs from forming on your pet’s legs and feet by carefully trimming the fur between your pet’s toes and up the back of their legs before embarking on snowy walks.
- More dogs are lost in the winter than any other season, possibly because cold weather can impair their sense of smell, resulting in a tendency for them to bolt. Always keep an eye on your dog when out walking; make sure you can be contacted using the details on your dog’s collar and even better have them micro-chipped as well.
- Finally, never let your companion walk on frozen ponds or lakes, even if the ice appears to be thick. They could fall through the ice and become trapped, or succumb to hypothermia in the cold water below.