How to keep your dog safe during walks in the subzero cold

When it gets cold out, boots and sweaters can help your dog better tolerate the freezing temperatures.

The bitter cold in Minnesota is hard to tolerate and can be even harder on family pets.

Amid the pandemic, many families welcomed pets into their homes for the first time and one of the big questions is how much is too much time outside in the subzero elements?

There’s the temptation to take your dog for the same long walks you would when the temperature is warmer, but Dr. Kate Farmer with the Animal Humane Society says you need to cut way back.

"So when the temperatures are as cold as they right now, I recommend that dogs go out for five minutes or less," said Dr. Farmer. "Just really quick potty breaks. Inside and outside. We don’t want dogs lingering outside and developing frost bite injuries."

Dogs are especially susceptible to frostbite on the margins of their ears, the tips of their tails and their paws. It’s the same for cats. A cat with severe frostbite was among the recent patients taken to the Animal Humane Society in Woodbury.

"If you see blistering of the skin, redness, fluffing, or even kind of a dark color, those are all signs of concern," said Dr. Farmer. "Swelling, or any kind of extreme discomfort. So, if your dog is either licking or chewing or bothering something, I’d be really concerned about a frostbite injury." 

Dogs do still need to get outside to do their business. Professional dog walkers are still making their rounds every day and even they have some special tricks.

"We use some musher’s secrets on their paws, and we keep them in coats and boots if it’s appropriate for the dog," said Curtis Johnson, a Minneapolis dog walker. "But if we keep them moving and out in the sunshine, they love to get out in the cold weather." 

While some dogs do love the snow and the cold, that’s not typically the case for smaller dogs. It’s all about knowing your pet and looking for the signs they’ve had enough.

"In some degree, you have to take your cues from them," said Dr. Farmer. "But I still wouldn’t push it when it’s this cold outside."

Dr. Farmer says if you see them shivering and lifting their paws -- that’s obviously a telltale sign it’s time to go back inside. Once the temperatures start rising slightly above zero again, she says to extend that time outside to about ten minutes. When it’s below zero, she says just let them do their business and come back inside.