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Why Is My Dog Limping in the Snow? 5 Cold Reasons

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Dogs limp in the snow because of winter lameness. This is a lameness caused by the cold and by snow collecting on their paws. Dogs can also injure themselves on objects hidden under the snow.

Winter in colder climates poses specific risks to your dog’s health. The cold and snow can be difficult for some dogs to handle. This can be because of illness, age, or breed. 

Different breeds will be more susceptible to freezing temperatures than others. Active dogs like to be out and about regardless of the weather. 

This article covers some of the dangers that dogs face in cold climates. 

What Is Winter Lameness?

Winter lameness is the term used to describe dogs that have difficulty walking in winter. This is due to the cold and snow affecting their joints and muscles. 

When a dog is limping after walking, running, or playing in the snow, it is commonly referred to as winter lameness. The following are some reasons why this can occur.[1]

Winter Lameness

5 Causes for Winter Lameness

There are several causes for winter lameness, such as age and illness. Dogs can also be prone to this condition if they are not used to cold weather. More serious issues like frostbite and hypothermia can also include symptoms of winter lameness.

1. Age

Older dogs can have a tougher time in the snow than their younger counterparts. They are more at risk for strains, torn ligaments, and other injuries and concerns that come with the fragility of age. 

The uneven, difficult terrain of the snow can make moving much harder for old dogs, or dogs with existing medical conditions. They can easily slip and lose their balance on wet surfaces, and they use up more energy pushing their paws through snow that is thick and deep.

An overly excitable and energetic dog won’t be aware of the risks they face when it comes to injuring the soft pads of their paws or pulling a muscle or tendon. 

2. Existing Illnesses

Existing Illnesses of Dogs

Inflammatory conditions such as tendonitis and osteoarthritis are already concerning illnesses that need veterinary attention. Dogs with these conditions should not be out in the snow as this may further exacerbate their condition or delay recovery. 

Tendonitis affects the tendons, which are made of connective tissue. These connect the muscles to the bones. Tendons can become inflamed, making it difficult for dogs to move. 

Osteoarthritis is characterized by the inflammation of the joints. This can occur in dogs just as it can in humans. Old and large dogs are more prone to these conditions. 

3. The Risks of Walking Through Snow 

The Risks of Walking Through Snow

The colder temperature itself is enough to cause stiffness and pain in joints without the added strain of moving through the snow. Dogs’ paws can be sensitive to the cold, and unlike us, they do not have multiple layers to protect their feet. 

Dogs are also prone to injury from fallen branches and other sharp objects that are hidden in the snow.

Another common issue dogs face is snow build-up. The hair between their toes can collect snow, making it difficult to walk. Dogs can acquire cuts on sharp ice, and walking on flat icy surfaces can cause the delicate pads of their paws to become cracked and infected. 

4. Frostbite

Frostbite might be the first thing on your mind when it comes to the dangers of winter. Although it is possible for dogs to get frostbite, it is quite rare. Working dogs that spend lots of time in the snow, like sled dogs, are more prone to frostbite. 

A healthy dog who enjoys taking a stroll with his or her owner in the winter is not at great risk of developing this condition. 

5. Hypothermia 

Hypothermia

Dogs can experience hypothermia in extremely cold weather. Knowing and observing your dog’s normal temperament can alert you to signs that they are struggling.[2]

Hypothermia causes the heart rate and breathing to slow down greatly. It also increases the chances of frostbite. This can lead to death if not dealt with immediately.

Is It Common For Dogs to Limp After Playing in the Snow?

It is fairly common for dogs to limp after playing in the snow. If dogs are out in the snow for too long (more than 15 to 30 minutes) their paws can be affected by the cold. 

How Do I Prevent Winter Lameness in My Dog? 

To prevent winter lameness in dogs, basic hygiene and ensuring that their feet are covered can go a long way. Ways of doing this include providing your dog with shoes and using protective substances.

Shoes For Dogs

Healthy dogs can benefit from shoes specifically made for dogs. Yes, you can protect your pooch’s feet from snow build-up by covering their paws in specially designed gear. 

This may not help much with more serious injuries, but it can definitely cushion their toes against the cold. This can be helpful when taking a stroll in less severe snowy conditions. Hiking boots made especially for dogs can even help them traverse rougher terrain. 

Shoes For Dogs
Image Source

Hygiene And Protective Substances

Vaseline, cooking oil, musher’s wax, and calendula oil can also help prevent snow buildup. 

Hygiene is important when it comes to caring for your dog’s feet[3]. Checking your dog’s paws for cuts, cracks, swelling and other injuries after a stroll in the snow can help prevent serious complications. Washing their feet in tepid water with soap or dog shampoo can help clean wounds and prevent infection. 

Ensure that dogs with health conditions are not exposed to the snow. Keep them dry and comfortable as much as possible. 

How Do You Treat Winter Lameness?

In order to treat winter lameness, provide your dog with rest, ice, and compression to get it back on its feet. Examine the limbs for any injuries. Call the vet as soon as possible if your dog is in distress.

If a dog shows signs of conditions like hypothermia or frostbite, get them treated by a professional immediately.

Some dogs require physical therapy to get them moving again. Your vet can advise you on the correct course of treatment for your dog.

How Do You Treat Winter Lameness

Breeds of Dogs That Hate the Cold

Below are some breeds that do not do well in colder climates, especially snow:

  • Pitbulls
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Dachshunds
  • Chihuahuas

Speak to your vet about what kind of environment and lifestyle is best for your dog. Some dogs have a genetic predisposition to suffer in certain climates. These breeds can live healthy lives in warm or moderate climates.

Pitbulls and Doberman Pinschers

Dogs of varying sizes can be affected by the cold. Even seemingly tough breeds like Pitbulls and Doberman Pinschers have a hard time. Dogs with short hair have little to insulate them against dropping temperatures. 

Dachshunds and Chihuahuas

Dachshunds and Chihuahuas struggle in the cold. They are small and have short hair that cannot protect them in the snow. 

Chihuahuas

Dogs Bred for the Snow

Some dog breeds do much better in the snow than others. Some even thrive in cold conditions. Here are a few of these breeds:

  • German Shepherd
  • Saint Bernard
  • Akita
  • Samoyed 
  • Shiba Inu
  • Chow Chow

Some of these breeds, like German Shepherds, are popular all over the world. They are happy and healthy in a variety of climates.

Samoyeds love the cold. They can also live healthy lives in warmer climates. Their coats function not only to protect them against the cold but also against the heat. Samoyeds are known to be highly adaptable. 

The same is not true for dogs like Chow Chows who can suffer in warm climates, even if they can technically survive.

German Shepherds

German Shepherd on the snow

German Shepherds are one of the world’s most popular dog breeds. They are beloved family pets and also make great service dogs in a variety of fields. They also love cold weather and do well in the snow. 

Saint Bernards

The Saint Bernard is another beloved breed that was popularized by the film Beethoven. Saint Bernards have long been a family favorite. This big bear-like breed is also quite at home in colder conditions. 

Akita

Akita

Akitas are loved for their good looks and temperament. They do better in cold climates and can deal with moderate temperatures. Raising an Akita in a warm climate is not ideal for their health. 

Samoyeds and Shiba Inus

Samoyeds and Shiba Inus are popular for their fluffy fur and beautiful bright faces. Their ‘cute’ factor has made them famous on social media. Both these breeds are built for colder climates and have no problem being just as adorable in the snow.

Samoyeds were bred for pulling sleds and hunting reindeer, and Shiba Inus have an insulating undercoat that keeps them warm and happy to be active even in deeper snow. 

Chow Chows

Chow Chows thrive even in the coldest weather. They are more than happy to venture out into harsh climates and their furry bodies are built to withstand freezing temperatures. 

FAQs

Is it painful for dogs to walk on snow?

It can be painful and irritating for dogs to walk on the snow for prolonged periods. If you are taking your dog for a walk when it is snowing out, keep their paws healthy by washing them with warm water and carefully drying them with a towel. 

Should I take my dog to the vet if she’s limping?

It is best to call your vet if your dog’s limp does not resolve after a few minutes. The quicker you deal with it, the better. This will give you peace of mind and ensure that the limp does not worsen.

When should I worry about my dog limping?

It is best to seek medical attention for a limp immediately if your dog is in pain or there is any visible injury or dislocation. Bleeding, swelling, and crying are all signs that something could be seriously wrong. 

Can dogs’ paws go numb in the snow?

 It is unlikely that dogs’ paws go numb in the snow. Dogs can experience irritation and even injured paws from freezing cold temperatures, but. Dogs’ paws have developed to withstand cold temperatures much better than human feet. 

About Misfit Animals Staff

The Misfit Animals staff consists of animal lovers, pet enthusiasts, veterinarians, zoologists, and other animal experts. Our goal is to provide people with information on proper animal care.

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