The age old question – how cold is too cold to walk your dog? I wish I could give you an easy answer to this question! One of those “when the temperature is ** degrees, stay inside, wrap up and curl up and watch films instead” answers… But it isn’t anywhere near as straightforward as that, so the best I can do is… “it depends”!
What to think about
First of all, it depends on your dog’s breed or type. Some breeds have thick coats with an undercoat and enough body fat to easily cope with the cold. Many even love the cold far more than they enjoy a summer’s day. Others have thin coats and light builds, so can’t cope with even the hint of a draft without feeling the chill and demanding a jumper to go for a wee.
Look at the country where your dog’s breed (or breeds) was originally developed, and what they were bred to do. Was it a cold climate where they’d be outdoors and working all day? Or was it in sunnier climes where the most they had to do was be a treasured indoor companion?
To give you an idea, the Siberian Husky, with their thick double coat, was bred to pull sleds through the harshest snows. For them, even the coldest UK winter is no challenge, and is probably their idea of the perfect day. Winter walks are a go!
Whereas, the Italian Greyhound, with their slight build, thin skin and fine coat was bred to be a rather cosseted ladies’ companion in the palaces of the Mediterranean. So the slightest hint of a chill will see most of them diving under the nearest duvet until spring! So it’s possible it is a bit too cold to walk this dog…
Our most popular breeds in the UK come from the gundog group. While they might not be quite as extreme as the sled dogs, they were still mostly bred in harsh climates and developed to work happily and enthusiastically whatever the weather. So a snowy walk in Swindon isn’t going to cause them any problems whatsoever – they probably won’t even notice!
Also consider your dog’s age. The very young and very old don’t cope well with extremes of temperature, and are also less likely to be highly active and keep warm with exercise. For the babies and the veterans, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Ice, ice pavement
A bigger consideration than whether it’s too cold is ice. Icy pavements can cause considerable damage to your dog’s paw pads and can also be hard to walk on. The rock salt mixed with sand or gravel that’s used to de-ice roads and pavements can cause dryness, chemical burns and cracking to paws (this goes for noses too) and so should be avoided.
For the hairies, snow can ball up on the legs, feet and in between the toes. Paw balm or boots can help prevent this if it becomes an issue with your dog.
Tips for winter walks
- Remember whatever your dog’s view of the cold is, they still need just as much exercise, stimulation and enrichment on cold days as every other day of the year – otherwise they’ll get bored, depressed or frustrated.
- If you have a breed that’s happy in the cold, wrap up warmly yourself and enjoy your usual long walk. Play games and keep active so your dog stays warm.
- Watch out for snow drifts, ice, grit, antifreeze, frozen ponds and other winter hazards. Remember when crossing roads or walking around traffic that drivers might not be able to stop as quickly as usual.
- Use a reflective collar, harness and lead – and wear reflective clothing yourself – so you can be seen.
- If you have a dog who’s very much a hot house flower, an older dog or young puppy, replace their daily walks on the colder (below freezing – or cold, wet and windy) days with indoor games, training, enrichment, problem solving tasks, and your company.
- If you don’t like going out in the cold and the wet, that’s fine but see above. Your dog needs just as much stimulation on days when you don’t want to venture out. They’ll enjoy interacting with you on training games, sniffaris, and enrichment toys more than you dashing out and back in again on a rushed winter walk you hate every minute of.
- When you get home, don’t forget to dry your dog off with a towel. They’re most likely to get a chill if they’re lying around wet.
- If it’s been snowy, check their paws for balls of snow between their toes.
The reality, however, is that in most cases, our dogs are far happier to go out on cold days than us. Often we use them as an excuse to not put a few more layers on and enjoy a winter walk.