Snowy paws and frozen fur
Paying attention to your pooch is important on winter walks
By Amber McLinden, Staff Writer
Meet my dog Kootenay. He is probably the kindest, most well behaved pup you will ever meet. One of his favourite things to do is go for walks, because he’s very athletic. When the word “walk” is uttered, he immediately perks up, turning his head slightly to the side as if asking, “Are you talking to me?”
However, winter in Calgary can be particularly harsh, and most dogs (even Kootenay) need their owners to be well informed on the risks of bringing a dog outside in the cold. They can’t let you know when they are too cold or no longer enjoying themselves outdoors, so it’s important to stay informed about the signs of a freezing pooch.
The first thing to remember is to limit your time outside. As much as dogs enjoy frollicking in the snow, they are at significant risk the colder the temperature is.
“Their ears are exposed, their paws are in direct contact with cold cement, their nose is sticking out there in the wind,” K.C. Theisen, director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States, tells WebMD. “Never leave dogs outside unattended for any length of time. Only take them outside if they’re going to be active and exercise.”
If it’s really cold, only go out for a short time, or not at all. As a rule, my family doesn’t walk Kootenay if the temperature reaches below negative -15 degrees celsius, even if he objects. Most experts recommend the same for all dogs.
If you have a smaller dog, or an older dog who might have more trouble controlling its body heat, try putting a sweater or coat on them. If it’s so cold that you feel you need to put them in a hat, you might want to skip the walk. WebMD also recommends bumping up protein and fat in your dog’s diet to keep their fur healthy.
One of the most hilarious and entertaining parts of a winter walk is letting Kootenay play in the park near our house in Northwest Calgary. He likes to roll around in the fresh white snow, which is a sight to behold. However, the park is riddled with rabbit poop. It’s Kootenay’s favourite (and most disgusting) outdoor snack. A nibble or two won’t hurt, but do your best to prevent it, as it is possible to contract various infections from wild rabbit poop.
Be careful when letting your dog off leash, especially with so many rabbits around in the suburbs of Calgary. If your dog is anything like Kootenay, they might run off after rabbits, who nearly always outrun them, and you’ll have a difficult time locating them. Try and keep your dog on leash and only let them off in designated off leash parks.
It’s important to keep an eye on your dog’s behaviour during a walk, especially if you’ve chosen to not put boots on them. Their paws are pretty tough, but even a cold day can affect them. Kootenay lets me know when his paws are getting too cold, indicating that it’s time to go home by lifting a paw in the air or jumping along without putting all his paws on the ground. Hold your pooch’s paw if they begin doing this to warm it up before heading home and check for ice stuck in between the pads of the paw.
When you do get home, wipe of your dog’s paws with a clean, dry cloth. This gets rid of the salt, dirt, and snow that they picked up along the walk. This is potentially damaging to the pads of their paws, so make sure to check for any red or cracking.
Overall, make sure you pay attention to the behaviour of your pet. If they are slowing down, trying to burrow into a warm place, or hopping along holding up a paw, it may be time to cut your walk short. It’s important to get your dog exercise in the winter, but more important to keep them safe.