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Top tips for walking your dog in the winter

January 12, 2021

Despite the cold weather, your dog will still enjoy a wintry walk; however, there are some risks that you need to be aware of when out with your dog at this time of year. Yvonne Jones from Dog First Aid Merseyside shares some safety advice about walking your dog in the winter.

Is it safe to walk dogs in the snow? 

Some puppies will love playing in the snow; however, for others it can cause them pain and distress.  Ice balls can develop in the fur, particularly around ankles and in between toes. These need to be gently thawed when home using warm water. Snow and ice can also cause frostbite and splits in your dog’s paw pads.  

Before you head out for a winter walk with your dog in the snow put some Vaseline on their pads to protect them, or invest in some boots to cover your dog’s paws. 

Antifreeze and dogs

When topping up your car with antifreeze or screen wash, which contains antifreeze, be mindful that it tastes really sweet to dogs but is highly toxic if ingested. If spilled, ensure that it is cleaned up immediately.

Antifreeze is sometimes added to gritting salt, and may also be present in roadside puddles so don’t allow your dog to drink from these.  If walking where roads and pavements have been gritted, remember to rinse and dry paws thoroughly when you get home. As well as being abrasive and drying to the pads of the paws, gritting salt may also cause chemical burns and be highly toxic if ingested by your dog. 

Should my dog wear a coat in the winter? 

Your dog might benefit from a winter coat if they have a short, slick coat.  A dog with a thicker coat will be better adapted for the cold. 

Walking dogs during dark evenings

When walking at night, make sure you and your dog are visible. Your dog should wear a reflective collar or harness or a light. Wear reflective and/or light clothing yourself to make it easier for drivers to spot you. 

Where possible, stick to well-lit areas; and avoid secluded fields. It’s a good idea to carry a torch with you to provide some extra light if needed. 

Sadly, dog theft is on the rise; so make sure you keep your dog within sight. Pay attention to your surroundings; and avoid using headphones or your mobile phone, unless it is an emergency, when walking your dog at night. 

Hidden woodland dangers

Are conkers poisonous to dogs? 

Although fun to collect with children, conkers can be poisonous to dogs as they contain something called aesculin. Most larger puppies would need to eat several to suffer severe poisoning but just one or two could be dangerous to smaller dogs or puppies. There is also the risk of intestinal blockages.

There are other hidden woodland dangers. These include: 

Acorns

The toxic ingredient in acorns is thought to be tannic acid, which causes liver and kidney damage. Like conkers, acorns can also cause intestinal blockages.

Fungi

Although some wild mushrooms and toadstools are harmless, others are extremely poisonous to your dog. Since it’s very difficult to tell between them, it is advisable to keep your pup away from them.

Slugs & snails

In the UK, we see far more rain at this time of year; bringing with it the inevitable slugs and snails. They can be tempting to dogs to eat, which can lead to lungworm. Symptoms of lungworm range from mild to very severe; and can include breathing problems, lethargy and poor blood clotting ability. Call your vet if you are worried that your dog has eaten a slug or snail and is displaying any of these symptoms. 

Be aware of slugs and snails in your garden too – dogs can get lungworm by chewing toys or treats that have been outside and have slugs or their slime on them. If you have slugs or snails in your garden, please don’t use slug or snail pellets but use a pet-friendly alternative instead. The common ingredient in slug pellets – metaldehyde – is poisonous to dogs. From Spring 2022, the use of metaldehyde will be banned in the UK.

What to do if you suspect your dog has eaten something poisonous? 

If you suspect your puppy may have eaten a conker, mushroom, acorn, slug or snail, please call your vet for advice.  It’s a good idea, if possible, to take a photograph or a sample (while wearing gloves) of the item you think they may be eaten.

Muddy walks with dogs

Whilst it is still extremely rare and rather a mystery, Alabama Rot (or CRGV) appears to be linked to walking in muddy areas.  This nasty disease can damage the blood vessels of the skin and cause kidney damage in dogs.  Look out for lesions – particularly on the paws, legs and tummy – as signs of Alabama Rot; and protect your dog by washing their paws and legs, if muddy, after a walk.

Exploring new walks with a puppy

With puppies, when you take them somewhere new, it’s a good idea to keep them on the lead the first time you go there. When you do finally let your puppy off lead to explore, take extra care to ensure that it is safe to do so. And take extra care when it’s windy as this may affect your puppy’s recall.  If you spot a potential danger, you will want them to come back when called. 

In an emergency – be prepared

It’s a good idea to take a first aid kit with you when you go for a walk. This should contain the basics, which are: 

  • Medium and Large Dressings
  • Conforming Bandages
  • Foil Blankets
  • Pods of Saline
  • Gauze Swabs
  • Microporous Tape
  • Vinyl Gloves
  • Alcohol Free Cleansing Wipes 
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Tick Twisters

Make sure to have your vet’s contact number, either saved into your phone or written somewhere you can easily find. If you are walking somewhere that’s not near your own vet, you may need to contact a vet local to where you are. Dog warden and park rangers’ numbers are also useful to have in an emergency.

Yvonne Jones is the owner-operator of the Merseyside branch of Dog First Aid. She is running a series of online courses on dog first aid to help dog owners know what to do in the event of a veterinary emergency, and has first aid kits available for sale on her website.