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Don't "fur-eeze" this winter: Exercise safely with your pet in cold weather

Your pets need regular exercise to help prevent obesity, muscle loss, and destructive behavior. That means you'll have to find ways to keep them active during the winter months, too.

How many times have you opened the window shades, looked outside, and thought that it's too miserable to take your dog for a walk? Pet owners in desert climates have a slightly easier time in the winter because they don't have to deal with a lot of precipitation. However, cold temperatures affect all pet owners at some point, which can make it difficult to fit in daily walks.

Your pets need regular exercise to help prevent obesity, muscle loss, and destructive behavior. You don't necessarily have to walk your dog every day to keep them in shape, though. When the weather is bad, you can play fetch indoors or train your dog to jump up for treats and over obstacles.

If you do venture outside in cold weather, remember these tips to keep your pet healthy until the temperatures rise again.

Watch the temperature

Temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit are generally safe for dogs. Anything below that number should make you pause and think about what kind of dog you have. How thick is their coat, and what color is it? How much do they weigh? How old are they? These are questions that will help you determine your pet's limits in terms of weather. Wind chill and dampness can also significantly effect your pet's comfort level. Anything below 20 degrees Fahrenheit is the danger zone for hypothermia or frostbite.

Protect the paws

Unless your dog enjoys wearing booties, their paw pads serve as the only barrier between them and cold snow. Ice might break and pose a risk of cutting your pet, while salt and other de-icers can cause paw damage and health problems if your dog eats them. Make sure you keep some paw balm around the house if you need to take your pet outside during wintry conditions. Sometimes it is best to stay inside. You don't want to force your pet into exercising when it can do more harm than good.

Continue to hydrate

Pets still need to stay hydrated when the temperature isn't hot. Dogs lose water by panting, urinating, and simply breathing. Any kind of exercise will warm their body temperature, even in the cold. If they're spending a lot of time indoors, you'll likely have the heat on, which means they'll get warm from that too. Don't forget to keep their water bowl full throughout the day to prevent dehydration.

Keeping your pet active indoors

If the weather does force you inside, you can try these strategies for exercising your pet.

  • Mazes will challenge your dog's mind as well as their body. Hold out a treat as you guide them through the obstacles, and try to gradually remove treats from the routine until they move through the maze independently. Mental challenges like this will actually wear your dog out as much as or more than physical exercise.
  • Utilize your home's architecture. Long hallways are good for games of fetch. Stairs also require a lot of effort to climb too. If you do encourage your dog to run up and down the stairs, make sure you supervise them. Keep in mind that older dogs, puppies whose bodies haven't developed yet, and dogs with longer spines sometimes struggle with stairs.
  • Interactive toys that roll and dispense treats will keep your dog mentally and physically busy throughout the day. Refill the toys or pick them up off of the ground if it seems like your dog is trying to turn them into a chew toy instead.
  • Laser pointers look attractive because they don't require much effort to keep your dog active, but these can actually frustrate your dog. If you use the laser pointer too much and don't allow your dog the satisfaction of catching its target, you might see your dog become anxious or obsessive.

Winter can be a lot of fun with your pets. Don't feel like you have to keep them inside the entire season because they do love to eat snow. You just need to take the proper safety precautions when you plan on exercising or spending extended time in the cold.

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