Brrr-ing On The Winter Fun!

Ahhhhhh! Wintertime in the Pacific Northwest. Normally, this would conjure up images of short, gloomy days spent indoors and rain-soaked nights that seem to go on forever. But, fortunately, we’re surrounded by two incredible mountain ranges that are a hop, skip and four-wheel drive away, and there are some excellent winter sports out there that are just made for our four-legged friend.

Skijoring is a sport that’s been around for centuries in Scandinavia is garnering a lot of interest with winter enthusiasts here. It’s basically cross-country skiing, doggie style! You can hitch up a team, usually no more than 3 dogs, or just you and your best friend, regarding he or she is over 35 pounds. Then all you need is a pair of cross-

country skis, a hitch line and an approved harness for your dog(s). You can purchase equipment for as little as $75 dollars.  Now, granted, many of the groomed alpine trails don’t allow dogs, but there are those that do.

Snow Shoeing is another sport that is invigorating and great for stamina and you can go virtually anywhere your shoes go. It’s recommended your dog wear a hands–free, 6 to 8 foot lead while enjoying this sport.

Kick Sledding is a sport that is gaining traction, pardon the pun, here in the PNW. A kick sled resembles a high-back, wooden chair which is mainly propelled by the operator kicking forward, hence the title. It usually requires more than one dog, 40 pounds or more. The kick sled does need to be modified to accommodate the team, but there are videos out there that will help you with the process.

Dog Sledding is a basically a sled that is made expressly to be pulled by a dog, or two, or three, or twelve! It does not rely on the operator kicking to propel it forward.

All of the aforementioned sports fall under the heading mushing, which just connotes a sport powered by dogs!

If your dog isn’t up for, or built for any of these sports, you can always settle for hiking or play fetch with a snowball.

Be Winter Wise

When we prepare for a trip to the mountains, we bundle up and pack the gear, which often includes gloves, scarves, heavy socks and earmuffs, maybe even a toe warmer or two, right? Well–one of the misconceptions we have is that our dogs come ready-made for the cold weather. Hey–wolves survive out there, why not Duke?

The truth is, the factors that determine your dog’s ability to tolerate the cold can be as plentiful as breeds themselves. Things to take into consideration are age, breed, hair coat, skin, activity level, nutrition, body fat and overall health status. Older dogs often suffer from arthritis which is exacerbated by cold. They often have decreased muscle mass, which can affect their capacity to shiver effectively. They may also have other conditions that limit their ability to regulate body temperature, such as heart, kidney or liver disease, diabetes or Cushing’s disease.  And since our weather here is pretty mild during the winter months, our pets are not conditioned for the colder mountain temps.

It is important to know your dog before you head out on that trip.

Winter Safety Tips

Hair Coat:

  • If your dog has a short coat, with no undercoat, such as a short-haired pointer or pit bull, it is important that you provide a warm coat for him/her.
  • Neoprene vests provide warmth and do not allow snow to cake to them as easily as fleece.
  • If your dog has a heavy coat with a dense undercoat, it is important that you keep it clean and well brushed. If it is dirty and oily, it decreases the insulating ability. The fluffier it is, the more warmth it will provide. And NEVER shave a heavy coat in the winter. If your dog has a long coat, make sure to keep it free of snow accumulation, especially if it’s a low rider, such as a dachshund or Scottie.


  • Always make a point of checking your dog’s feet. Make sure the hairs between the toes are clipped to ensure “snowballs” don’t form.
  • Keep your dog off of icy areas. Ice can cut their pads and it is often associated with hazardous chemicals, such as antifreeze, salt or deicers, which can harm the foot pads and can be deadly if ingested if your dog licks it or his paws.
  • Rubbing his paws with petroleum jelly before he goes out in the snow adds an extra layer of protection and be sure to provide booties if he will be out in the snow for long periods of time. It’s a good idea to get him accustomed to booties a few weeks before your trip.


  • If you plan on taking numerous trips to the great white wonder this winter, be aware of the fact that thermoregulation burns a lot of calories so be sure to feed your dog a diet that is a bit richer in fat and protein and bring snacks. Don’t forget the snacks! And always be sure to keep him well hydrated.

Stay Vigilant:

  • Never leave your dog to wander on his own in the snow. Snow and ice cover up a scent and could limit his ability to find you if he should stray.
  • Make sure he is licensed, tagged and microchipped in case he does get lost.
  • Read his body language. A dog suffering from hypothermia will often whine, display anxiousness, shiver, pick up his feet or stop moving altogether.
  • Always carry warm gear such as down blankets or heating elements, such as a warming disc or pad.


It is important that we keep ourselves and our dogs active in the wintertime. One of the main reasons veterinarians see an influx of cases in springtime is, in large part, due to returning to even moderate exercise after a season of sitting out. But there are alternatives to cold weather adventures such as trick training, (insert link) obedience training, weight pulling, indoor dog parks. You can even consider a conditioning package at a rehab center.  The certified staff at our new rehabilitation center, SOUND Veterinary Rehabilitation Center (SVRC), would be happy to talk to you about options.

Or– you can always just stay home and play in the rain!







Posted January 24, 2018 by Animal Surgical in Noteworthy with No Comments and tagged as , , ,

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