Winter Walks - How to prevent injury!
Updated: Nov 4
The clocks have gone back, the nights have drawn in, the weather is getting colder. This can only mean one thing! It’s the season for winter walks!
Most dog owners dread winter walks. Thick mud, torrential rain, freezing wind and the bitter cold. However, we are not fair-weather walkers! We know it is our responsibility to walk our dogs come rain or shine. Read on to find out what you can do to ensure you keep your dogs comfortable and injury free this winter.
Mud is one of the biggest issues we face on our winter walks. The deep, squelchy bog that your dog finds to wallow in and the mess created in the house from muddy paws is enough to put most people off. However, it’s not just your cream carpets that are at risk, your dog is at risk of straining (tearing) a muscle or aggravating existing orthopaedic issues.
I am sure you can remember laughing at the person whose feet literally gave way underneath them as they landed flat on their back in the mud. It can also be very entertaining when your younger or active dog does Bambi on ice impressions when playing in the mud. However, this sudden movement puts your dog at greater risk of developing strains especially in their lower back (Multifidus, Longissimus and Iliocostalis) and Abdominal muscles. Dogs are phalangeal creatures (they grip with their toes) so they need to be able to grip the ground with their claws to gain purchase.
What about when your friend got stuck in the deep mud and lost their wellie? Can you remember the difficultly, they had trying to pull themselves out of the mud and retrieving their wellie? Well, your dog may not wear wellies, but if your dog has an orthopaedic condition such as arthritis, hip dysplasia or cruciate ligament problems. They will have to work much harder to pull their feet out of the mud. This will place increased pressure on their joints and ligaments causing pain, inflammation, stiffness and swelling.
The simple answer is, try and avoid walking your dogs in deep, slippy mud!
Those of you with short, coated dogs such as a Whippet or Greyhound probably already have a warm cosy coat for them to wear when out on walks. But did you know that the cold weather and freezing temperatures can cause orthopaedic conditions to ‘flare up?’ This is because when the weather turns colder, air pressure tends to drop. This can cause soft tissues to swell and stiffen, which inhibits mobility, making it more pain full.
You know yourself, when you get cold you tense up and shiver, the same goes for your dog. They will appear tucked up round their abdomen, may have a roached back or shiver. Their muscles will be tight, so any extra movement such as a slip, or sudden burst in activity such as running, jumping or chasing can cause your dog to over stretch a muscle, causing a strain. The cold weather also hinders your dog’s ability to warm up their muscles, resulting in them becoming more prone to injury. Ensuring you walk your dog on lead for the first 5/10 minutes of their walk and that they wear a fleece lined dog coat will help increase blood flow, warm tissues, relieve stiffness, help prevent your dog from seizing up and prevent possible injury.
Wet & Rain
There is nothing worse than ‘soggy wet dog smell’ or getting socked through to the bone on a walk, especially if you thought you would chance it and not wear a waterproof coat. Even when you get home and change into dry clothes it still takes a while for you to warm up. This is the same for your dog. To prevent your dog catching a chill and the cold affecting their joints, check the weather beforehand and ensure your dog wears a waterproof coat. If your dog does get wet on their walk, ensure you dry them off thoroughly on your return and keep them somewhere warm. A drying coat works well too!
Snow & Ice
Love it or hate it snow can be quite hazardous for your dogs. The freezing temperatures and deep snow cause many issues as listed above, but snow can also wreak havoc on your dog’s delicate paws.
Snow can cover and hide obstacles like fallen branches, rocks and other sharp objects which could injure your dog. Antifreeze, salts and chemicals which have been used on roads and pavements can aggravate and irritate the paws and skin. If you have to walk in urban areas consider applying paw balm to your dog's paws to protect them. Also consider the time of day and the route you take i.e. first thing in the morning when the salt has just been spread on the roads and people are de-icing their cars.
Long haired breeds often have excess fur around their paws which can become clogged with hard ice balls, causing pain, discomfort and aggravation to pre-existing orthopaedic conditions. Regularly trimming in and round the paws will help prevent this from happening.
I hope this blog has been useful and that you have picked up some handy tips to keep your dogs comfortable and injury free this winter. However if you do find that your dog is struggling to get out of bed a couple of hours after their walk, look stiff, are favouring a leg, seem quieter/ more withdrawn, look in discomfort or you see the skin down the back twitching, they may be carrying an injury that would benefit from Clinical Canine Massage Therapy.