Many dog owners like to get out with their pups on a winter day. But it’s important to remember that cold weather can present health hazards for your pet if you’re not prepared. If you’re planning on being outdoorsy this winter, here are a few tips to keep your dog safe from the damp and chill.

Get Smart

SAGE veterinarians have taught Wilderness First Aid Basics across the Bay Area, and one of the first things they say is to arm yourself with knowledge before you embark. First, know what’s normal for your dog so you can more easily assess them if they start to show signs of stress wherever you may be.

Here are a few figures to keep in mind:

  • Temperature (rectal): 100 F-102.5 °F
  • Heart rate: 60-120 beats per minute
  • Respiratory rate: 12-30 breaths per minute
  • Gums and tongue: pink

For first aid tips, download Wilderness First Aid for Your Dog. You can prepare for minor injuries by keeping a Pet Emergency Kit with you when you travel with your dog.

Dress in Layers

Make sure your dog is decked out for his winter outing, especially if you are getting out in the snow. Dogs with little body fat will be much happier in a water-resistant sweater or coat. Remember, if it’s cold to you, it’s cold to your pet. If your pup has sensitive paws, you can use paw protectant salves or booties to help prevent irritation and soreness on (and between) the paw pads.

Try and keep your dog leashed with proper identification, and watch them at all times. Many dogs get lost during this time of year. Familiar smells are subdued with the colder climates and dogs can become lost or disoriented without them.

Keep a towel handy and rub down your pet’s paws and belly after the stroll to remove ice, salt and other toxic winter chemicals, such as anti-freeze.

Avoid the Extreme

Avoid ice and other frozen areas. It is impossible to know if the ice will hold your dog’s weight and if your dog falls in, it could be deadly for both him and any potential rescuer.

Be mindful of the potential impact that extreme weather can have on your pet. Prolonged exposure to extreme cold could result in frostbite, though this is rare. When frostbite does occur, it will more likely affect the feet, nose, ears and the tip of the tail.

Watch Your Pet

If your pet starts to shiver, whine, and becomes overly anxious or stops moving, take him to a warm place immediately. Your pet may be starting to show signs of hypothermia, or low body temperature. Consult with a veterinarian immediately.

These figures and symptoms indicate hypothermia:

  • Mild hypothermia: 98-100 °F
  • Moderate hypothermia: 92-97 °F
  • Severe hypothermia: <92 °F

Signs include:

  • Persistent shivering (early sign)
  • Lack of shivering (late sign)
  • Low heart rate
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Pale gums

Stay Warm, Safe and Well-Fed

If you’re planning a retreat away from home, pack an extra blanket or pet bed to ensure your pet has a safe and warm space to sleep. Keep it away from heaters in case of fire and cold windows that may have a draft.

Winter weather can also bring harsh storms, leading to power outages. Be prepared and bring extra non-perishable food and bottled water for both you and your pet.