Winter Walks

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When is it too cold to walk dogs?

Many winter days in Ohio are perfectly safe to walk most dogs. If the temperature is within 40-30 degrees F, then we still conduct walks as normal!

If temps reach teens or single digits with or without wind chill, it may be likely that you take the dog outside to quickly potty and then come back and maximize playtime inside. More info on how to do this can be found in the Rainy Day Walks article! The team may or may not send out a message in advance with a collective decision, stating it is permissible to cut walks short/maximize indoor playtime on all services for the given day. If a message is NOT sent, please use your best judgment (considering the things stated in this article!) and keep the team informed (via Slack) and clients (via journal reports) as best as possible on your intentions. 

Overall, you are encouraged to use a combination of temperature awareness, grooming-size rule, and careful attention to signs of discomfort to help you determine how/if you think cold weather will affect the dog(s) in your care! Treat each pet on a case-by-case basis!

What is the grooming-size rule?

A common health danger that dogs can face in cold weather is hypothermia. Dogs are especially susceptible if they are in cold, windy weather while wet or damp. The grooming-size rule is in place to help prevent hypothermia by taking size and coat length into account.

The “groom” of a pup refers to the hair length. Please use the two following rules of thumb:

  1. The shorter the fur, the more likely the dog is sensitive to cold temps.
  2. The smaller the dog, the more likely the dog is sensitive to cold temps.

Essentially, dogs that are large and fluffy have more working in their favor to protect them from sensitivity to cold temps. On the other hand, dogs that are small and short-haired have little insulation and should most definitely have a coat on them when out in the cold! Regardless, please pay attention to any signs of discomfort while out on chilly walks as that will also help guide you to making better decisions for the pet’s overall comfort/well-being.

Bottom line: absolutely NO GENERALIZING! Every dog must be treated on an individual basis using these measures. Keeping dogs inside/shortening walks should truly be a last resort and only occur if the dog shows cold discomfort and/or the team messages in Slack about compromising walks for that day.

How do I prepare a dog for a winter walk?

Preparing pups for being out in cold weather is super important, for many reasons! Before allowing things to escalate to frostbite-level emergency/concern, ensure a pup’s #1 priority is met in chilly temps: warmth. 

At the very least, dogs should have coats/jackets to wear while outdoors. If a client has a coat for his/her dog, please make sure it’s on the dog should temps drop to 32 F or below. While out walking, pay attention to signs of discomfort (listed in the next section) and act accordingly. If a client does NOT have a coat for his/her dog, please proceed to taking the dog outside (may be just for a potty break rather than a complete walk). Pay attention to signs of discomfort (listed in the next section) and act accordingly. In your journal report (notes), kindly inform the client that a coat would be a great little investment for keeping their dog warm while outside in the cold!

Sometimes, clients may also have booties, paw ointment, scarves, and other protective gear that their dogs can wear while out in the cold. Please use all that is available to you at the client’s home! Double check profile notes as well as any places where you believe dog gear may be available (coat closets, on counters, etc).

While out on walks, be sure to steer clear of ice, salt, and chemical treatment on roads/sidewalks, as these can really irritate paw pads and cause dryness/bleeding.

What are signs of discomfort in dogs I should look out for?

At baseline, it’s important to be able to identify and prevent general discomfort in pups due to cold weather conditions. The most common signs of cold-weather discomfort are:

  • Shaking/shivering
  • Hunched posture with tucked tail
  • Whining/barking
  • Behavior changes (anxious/uncomfortable)
  • Reluctant to continue walking (wanting to turn around and go back home!)
  • Seeking places for shelter
  • Lifting paw(s) off ground

Should you notice any cold-discomfort symptoms arise (but not limited to what’s listed), please seek shelter and warmth for the pup ASAP! Please note, warmth should be sought (shelter, blankets, cuddles). Using extreme measures (like excessive heat) to resolve discomfort/dangers can cause burning and/or potentially more shock. 

How can I tell if a dog has frostbite? What do I do if they have it?

Frostbite in dogs can be a very scary thing. While extreme frostbite isn’t super common, dogs usually get “frostnip” on their paws, which simply looks like snowballs and ice caked onto and in between the paw pads. The most common areas that dogs get frostbite are typically their paws, tails, and ears. Frostbite is usually characterized by:

  • discolored skin – the skin could be gray, pale, blue or purple.
  • skin that is cold to the touch and/or very fragile
  • pain, pup could be lifting paws up or whining
  • swelling and/or blistering
  • in extreme cases, blackened skin

If the dog in your care obtains frostbite, please first and foremost get them to a warm place ASAP! Avoid providing direct heat (ex: hair dryer or vent). Avoid touching the affected area(s) as well. If you suspect a dog has frostbite:

  1. Gently observe the source of discomfort (typically paws, tail, ears)
    1. It may take some time for a dog to warm up/recover from being out in the cold. Cover the dog in blankets and comfort them. If there are major injuries- bleeding, open wounds, difficulty breathing- call an emergency vet (don’t rule out having to rush to the vet!). Provide all detailed information so they can address problems properly.
  2. Contact the team via Slack to inform them of everything and allow management to contact the client. Management might also re-assign any future appointments you have on schedule that day so that you can take your time at the vet’s office (if applicable).
  3. Be calm and breathe. You did the very best that you could with the resources available to you.

Do I still walk dogs if it’s snowy or icy?

It depends! It is perfectly fine to walk dogs in most snowy/icy conditions. However, there may be circumstances in which you might find it less safe to proceed with a walk as usual. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Deep snow (4+ inches) on sidewalks that has not yet been plowed/shoveled
  • Sidewalks are covered in thick or hard-to-see ice patches
  • Heavily salted paths that are not safe/easy to avoid (too much salt on paw pads causes irritation)
  • Active heavy sleet/freezing rain
  • Active hail coming down in large, heavy chunks

In any of these conditions, you may find that it would be safer to maximize time inside for the visit. More info on how to do this can be found in the Rainy Day Walks article! Keep in mind that the goal is to keep to the originally requested walk as much as possible. The presence of any of these conditions listed above may be a factor in your decision to spend time inside, but they do not automatically mean that you should stay in! Use your best judgement to decide what would be the course of action that most benefits the pet and the client’s wishes.

Should you decide to walk in snowy/icy conditions, it is highly recommended that you complete a paw check after the walk to make sure the dogs are safe, happy, and healthy upon return! Here’s how to complete a paw check:

  1. Grab a towel (company towel or client’s)
  2. Lay the towel on top of the dog and wipe
  3. Work your way down to the underbelly area and wipe
  4. Work your way to the dog’s legs and wipe
  5. Proceed to paws
    • IMPORTANT: When you get to the paw areas, lift them up off the ground and back! For front paws, gently bend down at the wrist to check paws. For back paws, lift leg up and back. You will likely ensure the most cooperation (and cause the least discomfort) by following this step carefully!
  6. Check paws for the following and act accordingly: 
    • Is there any salt, ice, or snowballs?
      1. This can easily get trapped in fur in between paw pads, especially if fur is long. Wipe as best as you can!
    • Is there any dryness, cracking, bleeding, or discoloration?
      1. Check client notes/area to see if there’s any available paw protection cream or Vaseline. If not, please inform client in your journal report of what you witnessed and what you did to resolve problem. Inquire about Vaseline or cream that can be used for future walks. In an emergency, please call the vet!
    • Is there any swelling?
      1. You would likely notice a dog starting to limp on walks should they experience any swelling/pain in their paws. As soon as you notice this, please take the dog back home. Soak the paw in cold water to reduce blood flow to the swollen area. In true emergencies, call the vet! 
    • Are they groomed properly?
      1. The shorter the fur in between the paw pads, the better! The shorter the nails, the better too! Hazards can easily get trapped in long fur, affecting paw pads with it. Please relay to the client what you best suggest them to do to make sure the dog stays comfortable during the winter months. Frame it from the perspective of what the client wants/desires (their pet to be safe and comfy!). NEVER attempt to cut paw hair/nails!
  7. Hang up towel and DONE! 
    • Make sure to keep lines of communication open between you and team/client!

Keep in mind that some dogs are pretty funny about their paws being touched, so please proceed with caution. If it’s explicitly stated in the client notes that the pup doesn’t like their paws touched, please do NOT touch them! Instead, make sure to just be very cautious on walks and steer clear of ground hazards.

How can I stay safe during winter walks?

It’s extremely important that your comfort and safety are taken into account on winter walks! If you’re uncomfortable, then the service is more likely to be compromised or shortened. Here are some examples of safe practices to ensure you are safe and comfortable on walks:

  • Keep a sharp eye out for ice patches, especially a day or two after snowfall, when snow has likely melted and refroze
  • Wear lots of layers on all exposed skin, head to toe!
    • On your head – Hat, scarf, hood
    • Torso – Long sleeve shirt, sweater/hoodie, winter coat
    • Hands – gloves and/or mittens, Hot Hands®
    • Legs – Long johns/leggings, thick pants
    • Feet – socks (extras in case they get soaked), and thick, warm boots
  • Move slowly and carefully on walks, taking extra precaution to avoid interactions where a pup might get excited and pull
  • Keep a hot beverage in the car to help you warm up between services
  • Allow yourself extra time to commute between services, especially during inclement weather days!

What if the weather is so bad I can’t get to work?

If you cannot make it to work safely due to the weather, let management know on Slack immediately! In some cases, we may be able to find coverage if roads are better in some areas of the city than others. In especially bad weather, management will be keeping an eye on weather reports and will be asking for feedback from the team to determine if it’s safe to complete services at all. So, reach out as soon as you suspect your safety is at risk!

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