The sky was dark and the air was chilly. The snow fell gently from the sky.
It was a beautiful sight at 7:15 this morning ... from the inside my house. But as I was greeted with the wet cold of snow flakes on my cheek as Denali and I stepped outside, I was less than enthused. It just seemed too early to enjoy my first snowy run. Christmas Day? Yes. Dec. 1? No.
Denali, though ... he seemed thrilled at the sight of the white fluff as we made our way through the yard. The snow is his friend, a toy and source of hydration as he bounds across the blanket.
Of course, the snow today wasn't too much fun. Just a sprinkle on the grass and nothing on the sidewalk. There was no "let's pretend we're leading a sled on the tundra" run. There was barely enough to scoop up in his mouth. Nonetheless, he seemed to love it.
As for me? It wasn't that bad. I had dressed appropriately - three layers on top and two on the bottom, gloves, an ear band and a baseball cap; the sidewalks weren't slick; and I came with icicle-free lashes.
I also came home with peace of mind. I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's important to exercise your pet. Whether it's hot and humid or chilly and snowy, your dog needs the exercise.
"The obesity epidemic has an impact on humans and also our canine friends," says Sandy Amass, professor and associate dean in the School of Veterinary Medicine. She is currently leading the Fat Dogs and Coughing Horses project to educate more young people about veterinary medicine and health sciences.
"Walking a dog regularly can be great way for both of you to stay fit, and it is a fun activity as well," she says. "When the weather turns colder it is easy to want to stay indoors, but it is just as important to keep exercising."
Here are some tips from Amass and Jim Weisman, director of the Student Services Center and clinical assistant professor, for exercising with your pet in cold weather:
- Dogs will develop a thicker coat over time as they are exposed to cold weather, but small dogs or dogs with short hair might be more comfortable in a coat or sweater. (You will never see Denali in a sweater. Well, unless we're playing dress up. He develops a very thick coat in winter that makes him well-suited for the weather.)
- The chemicals and salt applied to roads and sidewalks to prevent freezing can burn or irritate dogs' paw pads. There are commercially available dog boots that can offer protection from such chemicals, as well as from ice or mud. If boots are not used, wipe the dog's paw pads with room temperature water after a walk. (If there's lots of salt on the sidewalks, I try to keep Denali in the grassy patches so that the granules don't get lodged in his paws.)
- Dogs need extra drinking water. They can lose water when they pant during exercise, and the cold air that they breathe in has very little moisture.