Most of us know about the risks summer heat can pose for dogs, but wintertime can be equally as dangerous for our beloved pets. Even breeds that seem made for cold weather such as the Bernese Mountain Dog and St. Bernard need protection from winter elements.

Dogs and snow don’t always mix. Just as we can develop hypothermia and frostbite when exposed to cold temperatures, so too can dogs.  Humans can get the flu during the winter, and so can dogs. You may also wonder does my dog need a flu shot? That depends on the health of your dog and your preferences. 

Here are some tips on how to keep your pet safe and warm during the winter months.

Protect Their Paws

Your dog’s feet is the body part that is perhaps the most susceptible to winter weather. The pads of their paws and feet can become cracked and dry after walks, and they tend to collect balls of snow and ice.

Your dog’s pads may also come into contact with hazardous chemicals found in common deicers. Sometimes these ingredients can irritate their paws and even cause chemical burns. You also don’t want your furry friend licking these chemicals off their feet and ingesting them.

The best way to protect your dog’s feet during walks is to use dog booties. Not only do they add a barrier between their paws and the elements, but they’ll provide a little grip on slippery surfaces.

Use a dog sweater or coat, particularly if your dog is low to the ground, as their stomach can come into contact with road salt and snow.

If they don’t wear booties, then it’s important to clean your dog’s feet after each walk with a little soap and warm water and a soft cloth. Rubbing petroleum jelly into their pads before walking them will help protect them from salt and other deicers and keep them soft. Trimming the fur that grows between their toes will deter snow and ice from collecting in the area.

Read more now about how dogs can develop sore paws during winter and how you can soothe them.

Limit Their Outdoor Time

Many dogs love playing in the snow—and there’s nothing wrong with letting them enjoy a little romp in the winter weather. But you still need to exercise common sense. Chances are if it’s too cold for you to tolerate the air without wearing a winter jacket or coat, then it’s too cold for your dog.

If your dog has a short coat, put a sweater or dog jacket on them before taking them for a walk or letting them outside. You can find lots of great apparel for your dog to keep them comfortable. Dogs can develop frostbite on their ears, nose, feet, tail, and scrotum, so it’s important to limit their outside time or keep them indoors on very cold days when the wind chill and temperature become dangerous.

Know the signs that your dog is uncomfortable: if they begin shivering, whining, and looking around the yard like they need a place to burrow, they are cold. Shallow breathing and a weakened pulse are signs of hypothermia. Bring them indoors immediately and contact your vet.

Ease up on Bathing

While no one likes dog smell, it may be something you’ll need to tolerate for longer periods at a time during the winter. That’s because over-bathing can dry out your dog’s natural oils on their skin and coat, leading to itchiness.

When you do bathe your dog during the winter, use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Consider adding supplements to your dog’s diet that will help keep their skin nourished and their coat shiny and soft. Running a humidifier in your home will benefit your dog just as much as it will you on cold, dry days.

Provide a Warm Sleeping Space

If you don’t let your dog sleep on the bed with you, provide them with a cozy sleeping area that’s away from drafts. The floors of your home tend to be the coldest area of a room, so give them a warm dog bed and blanket. 

Don’t Leave Your Dog in a Car

Leaving a pet in a vehicle during the winter can be just as dangerous as the summer heat. That’s because a car’s inside temperature can drop on very cold days and can cause hypothermia. Running the car’s engine and heater while you’re away isn’t safe; carbon monoxide can build up and kill your pet. 

If you can’t bring them indoors with you while running errands on a cold day, leave them at home where they’ll be safe and warm.

Keep Them Leashed While Walking

Keeping your dog on a leash while walking them ensures they won’t go near dangerous areas, such as ice on a pond or lake (the ice may not be strong enough to support their weight.) It also prevents your dog from getting loose and running into traffic or into snow-covered areas where they may blend in if they’re a lighter color.

Monitor Their Diet And Provide Fresh Water

Like humans, dogs may burn less calories during the winter months if they can’t be exercised outside regularly and if they’re sleeping more. You may need to limit their treats and monitor their food intake to make sure they don’t gain excess weight over the winter.

Make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times including outdoors if you do let them out. They need hydration during the winter, especially to help keep their skin moisturized. Try to prevent them from eating snow, which can be polluted from the environment.

Keep Them Safe: Dogs and Snow Don’t Always Go Together

Although it seems like dogs and snow is a match made in heaven, you do need to be cautious during the winter to keep your pet safe. If a winter hazard is unsafe for you, then it’s also unsafe for your dog.

For more tips on keeping your pets safe, healthy, and happy no matter what time of year it is, check out our latest pets and animals posts found under our Life section.