When walking your pet in icy weather, it’s essential to take precautions to ensure their safety and well-being.
Advice from Readyr’s Veterinary Expert, Daisy May. 

Icy weather brings with it a unique set of challenges for our pets. Chilly temperatures, frozen surfaces and salt grit spreading all pose potentially significant dangers for dogs and cats, but stay chill (if you’ll excuse the paw-ful pun): there’s plenty we can do to help mitigate these risks. 

With a focus on increased hazard awareness and the adoption of a few basic safety practices, let’s discuss what we can do to keep winter wonderful for our four-legged family members.

The Risk: Slips and Falls

I’m sure we’ve all experienced an “Ice Rink Monday” or two: first came the snow, then came the warmer spell and (much to every child’s dismay) the snow melted. But then came the very, very cold snap. Sleet and mush turned to thick, grey ice. And now you’re quite genuinely considering ice skating to work.

Slips and falls on icy surfaces are a hazard for all during such conditions. Musculoskeletal injuries such as ligament tears, sprains or even broken bones are known to occur with increased frequency during icy weather. There may also be ongoing psychological consequences: some pets will develop anxiety about walking in certain locations following a painful tumble, meaning once-loved walkies destinations may no longer be enjoyable.

Get Readyr:

  • If conditions are sufficiently poor that work and school have been cancelled, then you should really be considering cancelling your daily dog walk, too (and keeping your cat indoors).
  • Exchange outdoor exercise for indoor tire-out activities instead, such as fetch or gentle tug-of-war with soft toys; chase with laser pointers (a firm favourite with felines); or the use of puzzle feeders to provide mental stimulation.
  • If you really must walk your dog during icy conditions, where possible stick to soft, grippy surfaces such as grassy fields or sandy beaches.

Paw Paw Irritation and Ice Burns

Prolonged exposure to very cold or icy surfaces can result in significant discomfort, irritation or even outright ice burns affecting the paw pads of both dogs and cats. Whilst nature has cleverly designed the skin of the pads to be hard-wearing, there is still only so much they can take. Mild cases of overexposure to icy surfaces will result in self-limiting discomfort, but severe cases of ice burns can require aggressive and prolonged veterinary attention to save the affected tissue. 

Get Readyr:

  • Be aware of breed differences when it comes to a pet’s ability to tolerate walking on cold surfaces. Breeds originating in freezing climates (such as the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute) have adaptations designed to help with cold tolerance…for example, very furry feet! Other breeds lack these modifications and are more likely to struggle.
  • Shorten walkies during very cold weather, or consider avoiding them altogether. If it’s very uncomfortable for you to hold an ungloved hand on the pavement for thirty seconds,  you may wish to hold off until things have thawed out.
  • Consider keeping your cat indoors during icy periods. This also allows your cat to avoid the risk of encountering antifreeze.

Frozen Lakes and Ponds

Whilst undeniably picturesque, frozen ponds and lakes represent perhaps the most significant hazard faced by dogs (and to a lesser extent, cats) during icy weather. Potential consequences of an accidental fall into ice-covered water include hypothermia and drowning. 

Get Readyr:

  • Even well-behaved dogs absolutely must be kept on a lead around frozen bodies of water.
  • Never venture into a frozen body of water in an attempt to rescue a dog or cat that has fallen in. Instead, immediately call the fire brigade. You can also alert the RSCPA (UK). Extending a tree branch to cats, or lassoing dogs with a lead can be attempted but under no circumstances should you put yourself or any other bystanders in danger. 

Salt Grit Contact and Ingestion

Grit salt, also known as rock salt, is widely used to de-ice roads, pavements and other public walkways during winter weather, providing safer paths for pedestrians and vehicles. It is primarily composed of sodium chloride (the same substance as table salt), but may also contain additives such as calcium chloride or magnesium chloride.

Prolonged contact to grit salt can be extremely irritating for your pet’s skin. Dogs and especially cats will also typically lick their feet in response to this irritation, leading to ingestion which results in digestive upset. Vomiting and diarrhoea may occur, and in severe cases may lead to dehydration requiring veterinary intervention to correct. 

Get Readyr:

  • Wherever possible, walk your dog on grassy fields and sandy beaches during icy weather to avoid excessive contact with grit salt.
  • Rinse your pet’s feet thoroughly with clean lukewarm water following any known or potential contact with grit salt, or if you notice your dog or cat is showing more interest in licking their feet than usual.
  • Where you have the choice, opt for pet-safe deicing agents such as sand.
  • If your dog will tolerate it, consider investing in booties to shield their paws from contact with grit salt. For winter adventures, booties need to be warm, waterproof and provide excellent grip.

To Wrap Up:

As we’ve seen, even relatively simple measures can make a massive difference when it comes to shielding our canines and feline family members from the potential hazards of icy weather. The key point here is that safeguarding our pets during winter requires a proactive rather than reactive approach. I hope by this point you are feeling empowered to be your pet’s very own seasonal superhero! 

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