Dog Safety in the Snow: What You Need to Know
Written by Tobias Roberts
For most of us, waking up to a winter landscape on a cold December morning might be an invitation to curl up in front of the fireplace, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, and relish that scene from the warmth and comfort of our homes. Not so for our dogs. As soon as they find out that their yard is now covered with that fascinating, white, fluffy powder, they instantly MUST get outside to sniff, roll, and…yes, pee all over the new landscape they've discovered.
Most dogs are thrilled by the newness of snow. Their nose, with those over 200 million scent receptors, is enthralled by the different and enhanced smells that the winter landscape brings. Furthermore, a fresh layer of snow gives your dog a new layer for digging, finding critters, and other interesting things. It also invites dogs to activate their innate sense for the hunt by following the tracks left behind by other animals.
Despite the infinite wonders that come with the white winter landscape, spending too much time in the snow can lead to potential dangers for your furry friend. In this article we look at some of the dangers that snow can bring to your dog, and then outline a few safety guidelines to ensure that your dog can safely enjoy the winter wonderland.
What are the Dangers for Dogs in the Snow?
Just like humans, extremely cold weather can be dangerous for your pets. Accidentally leaving your dog outside during a cold winter day can end badly. Unfortunately, PETA reports that in 2021 alone, 22 companion animals died because of cold weather—and those are just the deaths that were reported.
Your dog's cold tolerance when playing outside in the snow (or even in cold weather) will vary depending on several factors. With a pair of long underwear, snow boots, gloves, and a good coat, most humans can pretty easily enjoy a couple of hours out in the snow. In a T-shirt and shorts, however, your tolerance for cold weather will be drastically shorter. The same goes for your dog. The type of coat they have, the stores of body fat, age, activity level, and health are just a few factors that will determine how much time a dog can safely spend in the snow.
Elderly dogs and those with arthritis will have much less tolerance to walking on snow and ice. Short-haired dogs will also have less cold tolerance because they have less protection. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs, however, tend to be more cold-tolerant and should be able to enjoy more time out in the snow. Even if your dog has a long and thick coating, their overall height is also a factor to consider. Dogs with short legs will most likely suffer more in the snow because their undersides and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground.
Lastly, any dog with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances will generally find it harder to regulate their body temperature and may be more susceptible to problems from the cold winter weather. Even for cold-tolerant dogs, however, when body temperature drops, this inevitably leads to a slower heart rate and breathing, most likely leading to several health problems. Frostbite is also a common threat to dogs who spend too much time in the snow.
A Few Safety Guidelines for Dogs in the Snow
So how can you let your furry companion enjoy the wonders of winter in the safest way possible? Here are a few safety guidelines to help ensure that your dog can enjoy the snow without any adverse weather-associated health risks:
- Make sure to monitor your dog during snowy weather closely. Any signs of shivering or limping while walking are signs that it is time to get inside and sit down for a warm nap.
- When the temperature drops to extreme cold (anything under 20 degrees Fahrenheit), you should probably shorten your dog's walks to protect you both from weather-associated health risks.
- Check your dog's paws frequently when outside in snowy weather. These checks help to monitor signs of cold-weather injury, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. Also, remove any ice or snow accumulation between the toes.
- Booties and dog "sweaters" might also be a good option for short-haired dogs with limited cold tolerance. Make sure never to use wet booties or sweaters, as this can cause your dog's body temperature to drop faster.
- Use a leash when walking anywhere near frozen bodies of water, as this limits the possibility of your dog accidentally falling through thin ice.
- Don't give your dog as many haircuts during the winter. Longer hair offers more protection for those winter forays into the snow.
- Be careful with toxic substances. If you live in urban areas, there is an increased likelihood that your dog might come into contact with harmful substances such as anti-freeze that have spilled or leaked from cars. Furthermore, salt and ice melt used on roads and sidewalks can cause chemical burns on your dogs' paws. Be aware of these threats and avoid them if possible.
As a pet owner, knowing the risks that snow and cold weather can pose to your dog is essential. Shorter walks in the snow are almost always a safe option. And, because your dog will most likely spend more time inside the home during the winter, remember to think about more engaging toys and treats, so your dog doesn't get bored! For ideas, check out our blog post, Six Indoor Enrichment Ideas for Your Dog During Winter. And don't forget about Project Hive Pet Company's dog treats and toys that work together to create a fun, engaging experience—you can always save on these bundles!