Sitka Tummy Warmer Baker Lake

5 Winter Safety Tips for Hiking with Dogs

Hiking Mountain Culture®
on
December 14, 2020

Winter is a great time to get outdoors with our dogs. The trails are less crowded as fairweather hikers choose to stay cozy indoors. Understanding how to hike in colder weather and in the snow will keep both you and your dog safe so you can enjoy the adventure.

My winter hiking safety tips for dogs cover some of the potential hazards of hiking in the snow and cold, and offer tips to prevent any mishaps.

Hydration

Trudging through deep snow is quite the workout! While your dog may look like they’re effortlessly bounding through deep snow, they’re definitely working hard.

Coupled with drier air, your dog needs more water than during a hike in moderate temperatures. Plan to bring as much water as you would for a warm summer hike, and offer it to them regularly.

Tip: If your dog resists the water, bringing along warm, dog-specific broth, like the one from the Honest Kitchen, might help entice them. An insulated thermos will keep the broth warm.

Ancient Juniper Kisses
Sitka and Jen share kisses on a winter hike. Jen pictured in KÜHL Jacket

Hypothermia

Some dogs, such as northern breeds, like Huskies and Samoyeds, do just fine in snow and cold temperatures. Dogs with shorter coats may require additional warmth in order to stay safe and enjoy their time outdoors.

Look for a winter coat that fits snugly, but not too tight, is waterproof, windproof, and provides insulation. VoyagersK9 Apparel and Hurtta both make excellent winter jackets for dogs.

Backcountry Skiing Sitka
Sitka wears a winter coat when accompanying Jen in backcountry.

Keep an eye out for signs of hypothermia, including:

  • Pale or gray gums
  • Panting
  • Stiff muscles
  • Lethargy
  • Low heart rate
  • Dilated pupils or blank staring

If your dog is showing signs of hypothermia, slowly warm them up (doing so too quickly can shock their system) with warm beverages, coats, blankets, or a dog bed. Get them back to the car as quickly as possible, and turn the heater on. If they don’t seem to be recovering, take them to the nearest vet immediately.

Paw Protection

Pay close attention to your dog’s paws in your first couple of snow outings. Some dogs have hearty paws that can handle the harsher elements, while others require protection from the snow.

Snow can affect dog’s paws in a number of ways. Ice balls can collect between the toes, making it painful to walk. Others might experience cracked and bleeding paws.

There are a couple ways to prevent snow damage on paws. The first is to use a pair of booties. The Ruffwear Polar Trex Dog Boots are a great option for winter trekking. They provide warmth, traction, and protection and are weatherproof, yet breathable.

For dogs who get cracked paws, apply a paw wax like Musher’s Secret before heading out the door. The wax applies a protective layer on the dog’s paws that keeps the snow off. It’s a little bit like chapstick for dog paws!

Environmental Hazards

Aside from the obvious environmental hazards like the temperature and the snow, be mindful of other environmental hazards, like avalanches, frozen water, and tree wells.

If your dog is off-leash trained, then you’ll want to keep them closer, and prevent them from running off trail and in between the trees. 

Rivers might be covered with snow bridges, and dogs can fall in and be at risk for hypothermia. Dogs can get stuck in deep tree wells and Search and Rescue teams do not always provide assistance for dogs.

Eye Protection

It may seem silly, but dogs require sun protection, just like humans! Dogs can get eye diseases and sunburn from excessive UV exposure. Winter sun is deceiving because the temperature is so cold.

Skyline Lake Sitka
Sitka sports goggles for a winter hike to Skyline Lake

Sun damage is possible, even in the winter (think about why you wear ski goggles). The snow increases damage with its reflective surface. RexSpecs makes great dog goggles that fit all sizes of dogs. Just be sure to do some training with your dog, so they get used to wearing them before you hit the trail.


Jen Sotolongo is a writer, photographer, and blogger. She travels the world in search of the most dog-friendly cities and outdoor adventures. Her book, The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs is now available for pre-sale. Join her journey at Long Haul Trekkers.

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