Winter is approaching fast. Before you know it, the days will be short, the Christmas lights will be up, and you’ll be brewing yourself a cup of hot cocoa to fight off the winter chill. But for dog owners, winter presents a new set of challenges, especially for those living in areas with extreme seasonal changes in weather. As a professional dog walker in Chicago for three winters, I faced blizzard conditions and sub-zero temperatures while making sure my pups stayed safe, and I learned what dog owners need to get through the cold months. Here are a few items no dog owner should go without in the winter season.
The snow and ice can be uncomfortable and even dangerous for dogs’ paws, but even worse is the salt that gets spread along the streets and sidewalks to melt the ice. That salt combined with ice creates a reaction that burns dogs’ paws. There are two great options for avoiding this. Some people swear by having boots for their dog that use velcro to stay attached, but I’ve found those to be difficult to deal with and they fall off easily. The better choice is rubber booties. They usually stay on well, so long as you get the right size for your pooch, they’re waterproof, and they’re disposable. PAWZ brand Water-Proof Dog Boots are the standard choice and hold up pretty well. They can usually be reused for quite a long time.
The second option is for dogs who absolutely refuse to allow anything to be wrapped around their feet. For those picky pups, there’s a wax-like cream that you can rub on their paw pads and between their toes. It will have to be cleaned off at the end of the walk unless you want waxy paw prints all over the house, but it keeps paws from feeling the burn. Musher’s Secret Wax-Based Cream is the wax of choice for protecting paws.
A Dog Jacket
Dogs have a natural defense against the cold with their own fur coats, but for those with short, thin hair or those who live in extremely cold areas, a jacket harness is a must. You’ll want one that is at least decently waterproof to keep the snow from sinking in, and one that allows you to easily attach a leash for walks. It’s important to follow sizing instructions carefully when you measure your dog to find the right coat. A coat that is too tight will be uncomfortable, and a coat that is too loose will not protect against the cold as well and can drag along the ground and get dirty. Again, the PAWZ brand comes highly reviewed on Amazon, and their Winter Warm Harness Vest Jacket is easy to get on and off.
When you’re holding a leash in freezing temperatures, you’re going to need some gloves that can keep you from getting frostbite and let you keep a strong grip on the leash. You’d be surprised how often you need to use your hands out during a walk, but there will be plenty of times where you’ll need to knock snow out of your pup’s fur, clear debris from their paws, or pick up after them. This means you’ll have to be able to move your fingers easily while staying warm. G & F Winter GripMaster gloves come highly recommended on Amazon, and even people who work in freezers claim they keep out the cold while allowing a lot of free movement.
You may think you can avoid trudging through snow by sticking to plowed sidewalks and streets. But there are times when you’ll need to take your pooch for a walk before the snowplows arrive, and as the snow melts into slush, you’ll be stomping through puddles left and right. There’s nothing that can chill you faster and make you more uncomfortable on a walk than wet socks. Waterproof boots that let you walk through the snow are a must. Columbia is a trusted brand for winter gear, and they offer some stylish, waterproof women’s boots with comfortable padding, like the Ice Maiden II winter boots.
Northside offers some excellent men’s boots with great insulation and a waterproof exterior, like their Backcountry Waterproof boots.
Even with the best gloves and boots, your extremities are the first thing to get cold when you go outside. If you don’t keep them warm, you risk frostbite. And seeing as you’ll be using your hands and feet a lot on walks, it’s extra important that you take care of them. Hand warmers are soft packets that cause a reaction that produces heat when shaken. Having a set of these in your pocket to stuff in your gloves or boots on an extra cold day is a godsend. And keeping your hands and feet toasty will help you grip the leash, maintain your footing, and react quickly. HotHands Hand Warmers are trusted for outdoor use.
If you want to fight the chill on a winter walk, this is my advice: layer, layer, layer. The best thing you can do is start with a tight-fitting first layer that stays close to the skin and traps body heat. I can’t recommend Under Armour ColdGear enough for this. They have a line of shirts and leggings for men and women, and my Under Armour was a lifesaver in the Chicago winter conditions. And the good news is that they also have a line for use in hot weather that draws heat away from the skin. So even if you live in a warm climate, these clothes can help you stay comfortable in the elements when you’re out walking your dog.
Pet-friendly Ice Melt
As I mentioned earlier, salt is a nightmare for dog paws in icy conditions. But that doesn’t mean you have to let the ice and snow gather around your front steps or driveway. There are salt-free, pet-friendly options, and a lot of the time they work better and leave less residue than salt. Safe Paw Ice Melter is guaranteed to be non-toxic and safe for pets, children, vegetation, and brick and stone paths. It runs a bit more expensive than regular salt, but you’ll be saving your pup from a lot of pain and potential vet bills for burn treatments.
No matter how much time you spend getting clumps of snow out of your dog’s fur, he’s going to be tracking in plenty of wetness around your house. This can make things quite slippery and, especially in urban areas, muddy. Having a towel by the door for wiping off paws and a doormat to shake off excess snow is certainly helpful. But once your pup runs loose, snow will be falling off everywhere. Well there’s a product called the Snuggly Dog Easy Wear Bath Towel that looks a bit like a bath robe for dogs. But it’s actually a neat idea and it would go pretty far in absorbing some of the moisture that melts off your pup. Users seem quite happy with it, and it would be useful year-round for rainy days, trips to the lake, or after bath time.
With this winter gear, you’ll find handling the cold and snow is much easier when it’s time to take the pup for a walk. What winter gear do you use with your dog? Let us know in the comments below!