How to keep your dog safe in frigid weather

A D.C.-area veterinarian is urging pet owners to protect their pets during cold weather. 

It’s simple to tell whether it’s too cold to walk a dog.

If a human hand becomes cold upon making contact with a sidewalk, it’s likely an animal’s paws would be cold too, Dr. Katy Nelson tells WTOP.

Dogs could potentially get ice balls, rock salt or road salt stuck between their paws, making it uncomfortable for them and potentially unhealthy.

She recommends using paw balm after a walk or putting booties on the pet for protection.

It’s best to thoroughly clean the paws upon returning home, she said. Check whether their paw pads are cracked or red between the toes.

When it’s so cold that a pet doesn’t want to walk, Nelson said to play inside so the dog can “wear off some of that energy.” She also advised owners to bring outdoor pets inside and consider the circumstances before going for a walk.

If conditions are unsafe for humans, the same is true for a dog.

“(Frozen lakes or ponds) can be scary for us, so our pets can absolutely fall through them as well,” Nelson said. “If at all you can prevent your pet from going out on one of those … I see situations like that it can definitely end in tragedy.”

While dogs shouldn’t be walked or left outside for long periods in frigid weather, the amount of time they can spend outside is dependent on breed, Nelson said. 

Dogs with thicker coats, such as Siberian huskies, can be outside longer than Shih Tzus or Chihuahuas. A pet’s age and health status also should be considered before deciding how long to walk for, Nelson said. 

Nelson recommends avoiding haircuts during the winter to ensure dogs are as warm as possible, with a few exceptions. 

“If they are matted or if they have some sort of skin condition, and they’re mostly an indoor pet, then you know, it’s really going to be up to you, your veterinarian and your groomer on what you do next.”

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