Winter dog walks: when is it too cold? (+ tips for cold weather safety)

October 27, 2023 - 6 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Drawing of a man walking his dog in winter

When temperatures plummet, it's tempting to trade outdoor adventures for couch cuddles.

But winter dog walks are vital for your furry friend's physical and mental well-being. (And they're good for you, too!)

So, whether you're debating if it's too cold to walk your dog or wondering what to do when the snow falls, this guide has you covered.

Tips for walking dogs during winter

Warm up your dog's muscles

Just like you'd stretch before a run, warming up your dog's muscles can help prevent injuries.

This is especially beneficial for senior dogs or those with joint issues or arthritis. A short indoor fetch session or some gentle stretches can set the stage for a more comfortable walk.

Seize the daylight for a brighter walk

lou lou the black pomeranian dog in a red coat out on a winter walk in the forest

The winter months often mean shorter days and less sunlight, making daytime walks even more valuable for both you and your pup. If your schedule permits—thanks to the growing prevalence of remote work for many—opt for a walk when the sun is up.

It's not just about visibility; a daytime stroll offers a natural mood boost, giving you and your dog a break from the winter blues and the screen's glare.

Aim for a two-hour window before and after walks

If you prefer evening walks, be mindful of your dog's meal times. Aim for a two-hour gap before and after walks to prevent gastrointestinal issues like bloat, especially in breeds prone to this condition.

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Take a well-lit route

If you're heading out for a walk after dark, planning is key. Consider a route that's not only scenic but also well-lit and safe.

Consider bringing along a whistle, phone, and flashlight. Besides illuminating your path, a flashlight is also handy for spotting your dog's waste, which can become a less-than-desirable treasure hunt in the dark.

For more dog gear that adds visibility, take a peek at our guide to must-have dog accessories for low-light conditions.

Winter dog walking hazards to watch for

Rock salt

Wintertime means the likelihood of encountering rock salt or snow melt chemicals on the roads and sidewalks.

Both can be very irritating to a dog's paws, leading to dryness and cracking if left untreated.

Boots can help (more on that below), but if your pup's out bare-pawed, make sure to rinse their paws thoroughly after a winter walk. You might also consider adding a paw balm for protection and moisture.

Antifreeze in puddles

In the colder months, antifreeze becomes a common sight on driveways and roads. Antifreeze often comes in vibrant colors, most commonly a bright blue or neon green, making it pretty easy to spot. It can pool on driveways, roads, or leak from car radiators.

This seemingly innocuous liquid poses a significant danger to dogs because of its sweet taste, which can attract them to take a sip. Even a small amount can be lethal, leading to rapid kidney failure if not treated immediately.

If you suspect that your dog has consumed antifreeze, it's crucial to get to a vet as fast as possible; every moment counts in preventing irreversible damage.

Tips for dog walking in the snow

Consider buying a dog jacket or sweater and boots

lou lou black pomeranian in an insulated jacket while walking in the snow

Believe it or not, your dog might need a winter wardrobe, especially if they're a smaller breed, have a thin coat, or are seniors.

A snug, well-fitted sweater or coat can serve as more than just a cute accessory—it can be a vital shield. But not all doggy attire is created equal.

To maximize comfort and protection, opt for garments made from water-resistant or moisture-wicking materials to keep your pooch dry. Look for designs that offer full range of motion so your dog can still run, jump, and play without any hindrance.

I personally loved the Canada Pooch snowsuit for my Alopecia-X-afflicted Pomeranian (that's her in the picture), but there are plenty of solid options out there to fit your budget!

Are dog boots really necessary?

While some might see dog boots as a fashion statement, they can be a practical necessity for winter walks. Boots protect your dog's paws from the cold ground and from contact with harmful substances like salt and antifreeze.

They can also give your dog better traction on icy surfaces. If your dog isn't keen on boots initially, start with short practice sessions indoors to help them adjust. (Also, watching your dog wear boots for the first time is pretty hilarious. Keep your phone handy.)

Stick to well-trodden paths.

In snowy conditions, it's best to stick to paths you know well, where hidden hazards are less likely. If you're out on a trail, look for ones that are well-traveled or groomed for winter activities.

When is it too cold to take your dog for a winter walk?

While Huskies and Malamutes might revel in a snowy landscape, many dog breeds are as sensitive to chilly weather as humans.Smaller breeds and those with thin coats are notably susceptible to the cold. Even some larger breeds can find winter walks challenging if they're not accustomed to the climate!

Additionally, puppies and senior dogs have a lower tolerance for cold temperatures, so you'll need to be extra vigilant when deciding to take them out.

Pets are all unique. What feels just a little chilly to one could be dangerous for another. Multiple factors play a role in how pets react to colder weather

Every dog has their own threshold, and knowing when to opt for indoor exercise is vital for your pet's well-being.

Take temperature, wind, and moisture into account.

A general guideline is that temperatures below 20°F (-6°C) can pose a risk, particularly for smaller breeds and puppies. But don't forget about other factors that can change the way the cold actually feels!

While a quick glance at your weather app provides the air temperature, don't forget to factor in wind chill and damp conditions. Winds can significantly drop the perceived temperature, and moisture from fog, rain, or melting snow can intensify the cold.

How to tell if your dog is too cold

It's not just about the numbers; your dog will give you clear indicators if they're uncomfortable. Shivering, hesitation during the walk, or lifting their paws off the ground are all signs that your dog isn't enjoying the cold.

Here are some more serious cues that your dog is nearing the danger zone:

  • Lethargy

  • Shivering, which stops when severe hypothermia sets in

  • Muscle stiffness

  • Clumsy movements

  • Cool ears, tail, and feet

If your pet has any of these signs, seek shelter immediately, and gradually warm your pet by covering them in blankets and tucking warm (not hot) water bottles around them.

Unusually low temperatures are uncomfortable for pets. When extreme or combined with wind and water, they can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, and even death. While there are no simple temperature guidelines that apply to all pets, pay special attention to your pet’s wellbeing whenever temperatures near the freezing mark (32°F).

Make sure you also read our post on preparedness for cold-weather emergencies.

The Paw Test: A Quick Temperature Check

A straightforward method to gauge whether it's too cold for your pup's paws is the 'paw test.' Simply place your bare hand on the ground.

If it feels too cold for you, it's likely too cold for your dog's bare paws as well. This is the same test you'd use during the summer when gauging whether it's too hot to walk your dog. Consider boots, or just try to walk when it's thawed out a bit more!

Wrapping it up

From the risk of frostbite to the silent threat of toxic substances like antifreeze, colder months come with their own unique set of hazards. And while preparation and vigilance go a long way, you can't always predict what winter will throw your way.

That's where pet insurance comes in.*

It offers the peace of mind that, should the unexpected happen, you hopefully won't have to choose between your pet's well-being and a hefty vet bill. In essence, dog insurance can allow you to focus on what really matters—enjoying those crisp, invigorating walks through a winter wonderland with your furry companion, worry-free.

*ManyPets analyzes every claim on its own merits, subject to the terms and conditions of your policy. Exclusions apply, including those for pre-existing conditions. Only claims unrelated to an excluded treatment or condition are eligible for coverage.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.