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  • Writer's pictureNicola Smith

Tips to keep your dog safe in extreme cold Toronto weather

Throughout January we have all experienced brutal winter temperatures and cutting winds that have chilled us to our very core; and our Canadian winter has only just begun. Like us, our dogs struggle with extreme cold weather conditions differently due to a diverse number of contributing factors. How accustomed they are to being outdoors in the cold, age and physical health, breed and type of coat, size and weight, body fat, activity levels; all these play a role in how well they will cope with extreme weather conditions. I have a Ridgeback who after 10 minutes outside starts shaking like a leaf and hopping from paw to paw. I have a Frenchie who gets outside and after 5 minutes starts screaming like a small child. Neither of these dogs are walking on salt and both have thick coats. Niko, or Bella our Husky will walk outdoors for hours, they are not fazed in the slightest in colder temperatures; in fact, they seem to love it. As Toronto dog walkers we get all ends of the spectrum.

Dogs with thick, long, and double-layered coats may tolerate icy weather conditions rather better than others while short-haired animals have less protective coats, though both remain at risk. The smaller breeds have bellies and legs that are closer to the ground, the snow and ice, which means they feel the cold more quickly and intensely than the taller breeds.

This past week the average temperature was -18 with a wind chill of -35. These temperatures are no joke and if we, their stewards are not careful, can cause serious harm to our dogs. I’ve discovered a chart by petplan that goes over the basics according to the size of your dog and when it is too cold for them to be outdoors. Not all factors here are considered but it’s a good start to use as a guideline.

Recognize the signs that it’s time to go inside

Keeping a close eye on your dog and how they are handling the cold can save them a lot of pain and discomfort. If your dog is shaking, shivering, crying or starting to get weak it’s time to go back into the house. Any and all of these could be the beginning signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body is losing heat faster than it can produce it. While dog walking in Toronto we look for these signs always in Winter.

If you believe your dog has hypothermia, do not try to warm them with a heating pad. Cover your dogs with blankets, sweaters, towels and check their temperature. If your dog’s temperature is reading higher than 103.5°F bring them to a veterinarian clinic immediately. 

Dress for warmth

Sweaters, coats, and boots for dogs don’t just look cute, they help keep them warm. If one coat is not enough, double up. Try a sweater and a coat. This will make a huge difference in your dog’s coping ability and happiness outside in winter. Boots are not just to protect your dog from salt but also keep chunks of snow from getting in between the toes of their paws.

Furthermore, dogs who are pets and live indoors are not used to being outside in these conditions and their paws are more sensitive. Dogs hopping from leg to leg are doing so because they are in pain; they need to be wearing boots in winter!

Through dog walking, I have dogs with all sorts of boots. The boots that I recommend, ones that stay on while walking and keep your dogs' paws dry and thus protected from salt are Muttlucks.  Invest in these boots! They are going to help your dog to actually enjoy walking in winter and save them from a lot of potential pain.


Protect their paws

If you aren't going to get booties for your dog’s paws, stay vigilantly aware and learn to recognize the signs that indicate your dog is in discomfort or in pain. When getting in from a winter walk, always check their paws for cracks and bleeding. You can purchase all natural beeswax creams to rub on your dog’s paws to protect them from drying and cracking.

Shorten Walks

Always monitor your dog while walking. Shorter and more frequent walks are recommended in extremely cold conditions. This past week on our coldest days we did not exceed 15-20 minutes on our walks. Often, even this seemed too much for some of the dogs.  

Being a dog in the city in Winter can be tough but there is allot we can do on our part to make this time as painless as possible for them.


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