How to keep your dog safe in cold weather

Winter can be a fun and exciting time for you and your dog, but it comes with challenges too! Just like us, our dogs can feel the cold during chillier times of the year. Some of the most common dangers to dogs during winter include hypothermia, frostbite, antifreeze poisoning, and dehydration. But the good news is that there are simple steps you can take to keep your four-legged companion happy, healthy, and protected from the elements.

We've put together some helpful tips so you can go ahead and embrace the winter wonderland with your furry friend by your side, knowing that you've got everything under control.

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Exercising and walking your dog in cold weather

It's good to be aware of the potential risks that your dog may face while you're enjoying winter adventures together. From wrapping up warm in freezing temperatures to avoiding slippery conditions underfoot, here are our winter safety tips for enjoyable walks in colder weather:

Did you know that just five minutes of brain games can be as tiring as a 30-minute walk?

Harmful substances in the winter months

Look out for ice-melting chemicals such as rock salt, also known as grit, which can cause dehydration or burns in your dog's mouth and throat. Antifreeze can also be harmful to your dog if ingested, as it contains a chemical called 'ethylene glycol'. It has a sweet taste that might tempt your dog to try to eat it, so make sure to keep it out of reach.

Antifreeze can also cause irritation and dryness to their paws and might be ingested when your dog licks their paws as part of self-grooming. It’s essential to clean their paws after walking in areas where it has been used and if you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze, get in touch with your vet immediately.

How frostbite and hypothermia might affect your dog

It's not just humans that can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia during freezing weather; our four-legged friends are at risk too. Frostbite is when the skin and tissues freeze, and hypothermia is when the body temperature drops. These are both serious conditions, so be sure to keep an eye out for early signs particularly if your dog has got very cold outside.

Frostbite symptoms

Here are some signs of frostbite to watch out for in dogs:

  • Pale, grey, or blue skin
  • Swelling and pain in the affected area
  • Blisters on the skin
  • Limping or avoiding putting weight on the affected limb

Frostbite can be painful, and your dog may need medication to help manage the pain. If you think your dog has frostbite, follow these steps:

  1. Call your vet right away, as frostbite can cause serious tissue damage, and early treatment is essential
  2. Move your dog to a warm room
  3. Gently warm the affected area with warm, moist towels or water (not hot) - don't heat the affected area too quickly, as it could cause more damage
  4. Keep an eye on your dog and look for any changes in their condition

Hypothermia symptoms

Hypothermia can be scary, but if you know the signs, you can act quickly. The symptoms of hypothermia in dogs can include the following:

  • Shivering to warm up
  • Lethargy and appearing sluggish and tired
  • Slow heart rate
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Shallow or laboured breathing
  • Pale or blue gums
  • In severe cases, dogs may lose consciousness

If you think your dog might be suffering from hypothermia, you should take the following steps:

  1. Contact your vet immediately. Hypothermia can be a serious condition, and early treatment is crucial
  2. Move your dog to a warm room and cover them with a blanket to help warm up
  3. Offer warm water to drink to help raise your dog's body temperature
  4. Keep a close eye on your dog and watch for any changes in their condition until you can be seen by your vet

What to do when it's too cold to exercise outside

Whilst walking, running, and playing are great ways to keep active, it's important to remember that too much exposure to cold weather can be harmful. So, opt for shorter bursts close to home during very chilly snaps, and try some indoor enrichment activities to keep your dog mentally stimulated.

When is it too cold to walk or exercise outside?

When walking your four-legged friend in colder weather, remember that dog breed, size, age and the thickness of their coat can all make a difference in how your dog copes with the cold. Generally, if it feels too cold for you to be outside, it's too chilly for your dog. If you're unsure, opting for a shorter walk or indoor playtime to keep your dog safe and cosy is best.

How to keep your dog warm at night

It's more than just the outside temperature you need to be aware of during the winter months. Remember that when the heating goes off your house can get chilly at night and could leave your pet shivering in their usually cosy spot.

Here are some tips for keeping your dog safe and warm at night:

  1. Provide a warm, comfortable bed that's off the ground and well-insulated
  2. Set a comfortable temperature in the room, ideally between 20-22°C
  3. Give your dog extra bedding, such as blankets or towels, to maintain their body heat and help protect them from the cold
  4. Place your dog's bed away from draughty windows and doors
  5. Avoid letting your dog sleep in unheated areas like a garage or porch

What to do if you're concerned about your guide dog in cold weather

If your guide dog is showing signs of distress or illness that are causing concern, don't hesitate to get in touch with your Dog Health and Wellbeing Specialist.

Please get in touch with the emergency line on 0345 143 0217 if anything happens outside of office hours.

If you have any general queries about your guide dog, please get in touch with your Puppy Development Advisor, Guide Dogs Mobility Specialist or Dog Health and Wellbeing Specialist - they're here to help.