This post was originally published on the Petfinder blog
By Jane Harrell, Petfinder.com associate producer
Short winter trips to the dog park can be a great way to let your dog burn off some of that pent-up energy from staying inside more during the cold months. But the temperature and snow, among other things, can pose hazards to your pup.
Here are some tips for keeping your dog safe. (Not sure where the nearest dog park is? Check out the new interactive dog-park map on Animal Planet.)
- Check with your vet. Senior dogs, dogs with arthritis, dogs with short fur and puppies can be especially sensitive to the cold weather. Ask your vet whether it’s better to keep your dog indoors and restrict his outdoor activity to short walks. If your vet thinks a trip to the park is okay, ask her what cold-weather precautions she recommends.
- Bundle up. Dress your dog in a warm coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck; it should cover her back from the base of her tail and also protect her belly. Dog booties can protect paws from ice and salt — get your dog used to them indoors first.
- Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. The risk of these conditions is especially high when the temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite typically affects poorly insulated body parts such as the tips of the ears and is evidenced by skin that is pale or red, swollen and painful or numb. Signs of hypothermia include slow pulse, shallow breathing, disorientation, collapse and unconsciousness. If you think your dog has either, call your vet immediately!
- Stick to fenced dog parks. More dogs are lost during the winter than any other season, possibly because dogs can lose your scent in snow or ice and become lost if they can’t see you. (Read our article: “Cold Weather Tips.”)
- Avoid salt. Stick to dry or snow-covered areas where road salt has not been used to melt ice. Not only can it hurt your dog’s paws, many varieties contain harmful chemicals that can cause stomach upset and even death if ingested when your dog licks his paws.
- Trim your dog’s paws. If your dog has furry feet, ask your groomer to “scoop” the pads — trim the hair that grows between your dog’s toes and under his feet — during the winter to prevent ice buildup between the paw pads. (Read our article: “Caring for Your Pup’s Paws in the Winter.”)
- Play fetch with toys, not sticks. Sticks — so plentiful in winter — can cause choking and severe injuries. (Read the Daily Mail article: “How throwing Fido a stick could kill him.”) So if your dog likes to chew and chase, pack a Frisbee, tennis ball or other toy.
- Watch out for bad play. Check out our video, “Dog Parks and Good Play vs. Bad Play,” to learn the signs that play has turned aggressive. Trust your instincts and leave if play is too rough. (Read our blog post: “Protect your dog from dog park bullies.“)
- Wipe your dog off as you get home. Balls of ice can form between your dog’s toes, and antifreeze, salt and other chemicals can stick to his paws and upset his stomach — or worse — when he licks them. Thoroughly wipe down your dog’s belly, legs and feet as soon you come home — and while you’re at it, check for issues such as dry and cracked paw pads.