Outdoor exercise is good for pets no matter the season, but experts say snow and ice isn’t always a winter wonderland for man’s best friend.
When the temperatures dip, pets —just like their human companions —need to bundle up. Pets can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. Owners should also be on the lookout for common hazards, such as road salt and toxins from antifreeze that can pose a threat to the health and safety of your furry friends.
“There are a lot of things specific to urban areas when you’re out walking your pets,” said Michael San Filippo, senior media relations specialist with the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In cities, dogs tend to run into a lot of de-icer and have more potential to come into contact with antifreeze, which can cause paw irritation or abrasions.
These are some of the most common winter weather injuries critical care veterinarian Kiko Bracker encounters at Boston’s 24-hour animal hospital, Angell Animal Medical Center.
Frostbite on the tips of the ears and painful ice balls forming inside in the crevices of paws are other concerns, he said.
But the risks of playing outside shouldn’t keep pets confined to the house all winter, San Filippo and Bracker said.
“Even in the winter months, we want people to get outside —it’s good for animal health and it’s good for bonding,” San Flippo said. “Just keep [outside time] short and be extra vigilant about your pet’s behavior and look for the signs that they might need to get back inside.”
As temps dipped into the low 20s on Monday afternoon, dogs were scarce around Boston.
Metro tracked down a few furry friends getting in some daily exercise at Nunziato Dog Park in Union Square in Somerville.
Benny, a 9-year-old miniature poodle weighing in at about 10 pounds, sat snug in his owner’s arms as his younger brother, 18-month-old Sulu, ran around with a crew of German shepherds and boxers.
“They’re both miniature poodles, but Sulu’s on the bigger side and Benny’s on the smaller side with a thinner coat. When it gets below freezing he doesn’t leave the house without his jacket,” said their owner, Susan Giordano, of Somerville.
Benny had his warmest jacket on Monday afternoon —an import from Germany, Giordano said. The fur-lined vest attaches around his waist, under his haunches and around his neck to help keep in body heat.
When it’s cold, Giordano said, she’s sure to keep an eye on both dogs to make sure they’re not getting too cold.
“I want them to be happy, so I watch them and I can usually tell when they’re ready,” she said as Benny let out a little shiver.
Bracker said all dogs are different, so it’s important the owners stay in tune with their needs when dealing with the elements.
After a walk through slush or salted sidewalks, it’s a good idea for owners to give paws a quick wipe-down to stop animals from ingesting any toxins their paw pads might have picked up, he said.
Petroleum-based balms are also a good way to protect against ice balls and help to keep paws properly moisturized.
As for braving the wind and cold, San Filippo and Bracker both recommended sweaters and scarves.
“They’re not only fashionable, but they serve a purpose,” Bracker said.
Booties can also be a great idea, depending on the animal. Some dogs like boots more than others and, experts agreed, it’s the animal’s comfort that matters most.
Bracker said the biggest takeaway for pet owners is to be prepared and not let a little snow get in the way of a good time.
“Enjoy the winter,” Backer said. “Generally dogs love being outside, but as with people, you have to do it in moderation in the winter.”