Cold Weather Exercise Guide

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The falling temperature is no excuse to sit about and avoid exercising your dog. Even in winter, just as in all other times of the year, your dog requires a certain amount of activity to maintain a healthy lifestyle and not become overweight. Here are some tips on getting the appropriate amount of recreation into those coldest few months of the year.

Preparing For the Cold

Just as you spend time making sure you’re dressed appropriately before bracing the bitter weather, your dog should also be properly protected from the elements.

  • Dog Breeds Meant for Winter Weather: Some of the larger dog breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Huskies, can tolerate the colder weather better than others. In fact, as they are exposed to colder weather, your larger dog breed may even develop a thicker coat to better prepare themselves for the frigid weather.
  • Consider Clothing for Smaller Breeds: Smaller breeds, however, like Chihuahuas and Miniature Pinschers, have a much more difficult time adjusting to the unforgiving weather. Also at risk of becoming too cold are breeds with short coats and newborn puppies, as their bodies are not prepared to fight winter’s cold. Each of these dogs should wear some type of cold protection, like a coat, thick vest, or sweater, if the temperature drops too low. Look for coats or sweaters with high collars or a turtleneck that covers your dog from high along the neck to the base of the tail on top, and from high under the neck to the whole length of the belly underneath.
  • Other Winter Accessories for Dogs: Dog booties also provide a good barrier from salts and hazardous chemicals that are used on the pavement to melt snow and ice. As a bonus, they’re a great deterrent of mud and dirty-snow being tracked back into your home. If you don’t use booties, be sure to wipe your dog's paw pads with room temperature water after being outside for any extended period of time.

Your dog’s paws get cold and uncomfortable after too much time outside, just like your toes when walking through snow in boots, so a nice rinse will feel great on your dog’s paws, as well as clean them off, so you don’t have to deep-clean your floors later.

Cold-Weather Health Tips

  • Dry Your Dog Thoroughly: When you bathe your dog, be sure to dry him completely before taking him out in the cold weather for a walk or exercise. It is especially important be keep your dog well-groomed during the winter months to protect him from the elements.
  • Consider Dietary Adjustments: If your dog frequently participates in outdoor activities during the colder months, increase his food intake, especially protein, to help keep his coat thick and healthy. Dogs who are not as active during the winter months may need to have their food consumption reduced to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Monitor for Winter Skin Issues: If your dog’s coat suddenly becomes matted and spotty, or if your dog begins to itch incessantly, consult your local veterinarian right away.
  • Keep Playing: Another winter activity to consider is doggie daycare, which is an excellent alternative during cold weather months. It’s a great place for your dog to get plenty of physical and mental stimulation while learning social skills by being around other dogs.

How Long Should My Dog Be Outside?

The amount of time you spend outside with your dog should depend on their size, breed type, and age. Remember that ill or elderly dogs are more sensitive to the cold weather, so try to monitor their time outdoors more closely, only risking the weather when they need to relieve themselves.

Dogs who are better at handling the cold can spend hours outside without becoming uncomfortable, but some of the smaller and younger dogs’ exercise sessions should be kept shorter. Importantly, no dog should be left outside unattended, especially in harsh conditions.

Need More Information?

For more tips on keeping your pet at a healthy weight, ask your local veterinarian for feeding recommendations during the cold-weather months, or consult our nutrition guide for information about keeping your canine counterpart fit.

If you have any other questions about your pet’s health, please feel free to browse through our Pet Health Resource Library or check out some of the links below.