Exercising Your Pets in Cold Climates

Take Safe Measures When Outside

Lab sits in the snow

It’s a cold winter’s day. Snow is gently falling, you’re snoozing on the couch in front of a crackling fire and then, like a surprise snowball attack, your dog pokes you awake with his cold wet nose.

He wants to go out for a walk. Now.

As much as you’d like to stay warm and cozy indoors, your pet still needs to exercise, no matter what the season. Most indoor dogs cannot tolerate being left outside in sub-freezing weather, as their coats or paw pads have not thickened.

First Gear Up

Put on your coat, hat and mittens, and get out there with your pet. There are simple ways you can keep him safe while you both enjoy being outdoors.

Just as you need a little warm-up to avoid injury before exercising in the cold, so does your pet. Get him moving a little bit before opening the door.

To keep a smaller pet or short-haired breed (boxers, greyhounds, Dobermans, or Chihuahuas, for example) warm, consider dressing him in a coat. Pet stores and boutiques offer plenty styles to choose from in all price ranges.

Caution in the Cold

More dogs are lost during winter than any other season, making a leash, a pet microchip and identification tags invaluable.

Once you start walking or jogging, be cautious of ice patches where both of you could slip and fall and possibly become injured.

If your dog is frequently lifting up his paws, crying or stopping while out on his walk, there’s a chance he’s trying to tell you his pads are cold. Check to make sure he didn’t step in salt or other ice-melting agents used on the streets as these chemicals can be very irritating to his pads.


One of the most common winter hazards to pets? Antifreeze, a sweet smelling poison that attracts pets.

Hazardous Solutions

Woman and dog play in the snow

Slip-on boots created specifically to protect a dog’s paws from the elements also provide traction — if you think your dog would tolerate wearing them, that is. Popular by growing demand, a variety of boot styles and sizes are available at pet stores and online. Be proactive — make sure your dog becomes comfortable wearing the boots before winter comes around.

One of the most common winter hazards to pets? Antifreeze, a sweet smelling poison that attracts pets. Check your garage and driveway for any spills, and beware of parking lots and your neighborhood streets. Cat litter or sand absorbs the fluid and will prevent pets from eating it.

Pet-safe antifreeze made with propylene glycol is available at stores. If ingested in small amounts, the harmful effects are less severe, although its alcoholic nature does cause inebriation, so you still always want to be careful around pets.

Check Your Pet

Wipe your dog’s paws with a damp towel as soon as you’re back indoors, eliminating the risk of him licking them before you can wash off any irritants or toxins he may have been exposed to outdoors. If you have an anxious or impatient pup, consider keeping a container of warm water and cloths by the door so you can wash his paws without much fuss.

Look closely in between your dog’s toes for balls of ice that can form and become quite painful. Warm water will also help dissolve any lingering ice. Take preventive care before heading out in the snow: trim the hair around your dog’s pads and apply a small amount of Vaseline, cooking oil or spray between his toes.

Check your dog’s nails and pads carefully; snow can hide sharp objects that can cause an injury, and pads can become discolored from the cold, appearing red, grey or white with some peeling due to frostbite. Thaw your dog’s pads slowly by applying warm, moist towels until the area becomes flushed.

Exercise Good Choices

Use common sense: In extreme conditions, such as record low temperatures or a blizzard, keep your pet’s outdoor time to a minimum.

Otherwise, a brisk walk and some playtime make for a happy, healthy pet. If you suspect injury, contact your veterinarian immediately.

So, until your next outing, head back to the couch and soak up the warmth of the crackling fire…and your four-legged, furry companion curled up beside you.


If you enjoyed this story, you may like to read about pets losing holiday pounds or humans and pets battling obesity together.