You may prefer winter weather to balmier temperatures, but frigid conditions can pose several dangers for your pet. Our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team offers cold safety tips that will keep your pet warm and safe and protect them when temperatures plummet.
No. 1: Limit your pet’s time outside
Your pet may wear a fur coat, but they are still susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. Keep your cat indoors during the winter months, and limit your dog’s time outside on cold days. Specific considerations include:
- Short-haired dogs — Short-haired dogs have less protection and typically feel cold more quickly. Even long-haired and thick-coated dogs, such as huskies, who are more cold tolerant, should not be left outside for long periods in freezing temperatures.
- Short-legged dogs — Dogs who have short legs typically feel cold faster, because their body is closer to the cold ground and snow.
- Senior dogs — Older pets are usually more cold susceptible, because they have a harder time regulating their body temperature.
No. 2: Find winter weather clothing for your pet
If you have a short-haired dog or a dog who seems bothered by the cold, consider dressing them in a sweater or coat when you go outdoors. Ensure you remove or change the garment if the material gets wet, since moisture against your pet’s skin can make them colder.
No. 3: Protect your pet’s feet
Winter weather is hard on your pet’s feet, which can be irritated by cold surfaces, ice, and deicing salt, and cause cracked paw pads. Tips to protect your pet’s feet when walking in the cold include:
- Coat their paws — Coat their feet with petroleum jelly or other paw protectants that offer protection from salt and other harmful agents.
- Wipe their paws — After an outing, use a clean, dry towel to wipe your pet’s paws, ensuring you remove ice and other particles lodged between their toes.
- Cover their paws — If your pet will tolerate booties, they are a great way to protect their feet on a cold, wintry day.
No. 4: Prevent your pet from ingesting a winter weather toxin
Common pet toxins found in cold weather include:
- Antifreeze — Antifreeze is used to help regulate your car engine when temperatures drop. Many antifreeze products contain ethylene glycol, which commonly attracts pets, because the chemical smells and tastes sweet. Once ingested, the pet rapidly absorbs the chemical, and only a small amount can lead to deadly kidney damage. Clean up spills quickly, and store antifreeze in an area inaccessible to your pet.
- Ice melts — Ice melts are necessary to help keep sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, and roads ice free, but these products can be dangerous for pets. Some products will irritate your pet’s skin and paws, and others cause gastrointestinal (GI) irritation if ingested when your pet is grooming. Remove ice melt chemicals from your pet’s fur and paws, and use pet-friendly products around your home.
- Rodent poison — All rodenticides, which are used more commonly during the winter months, are dangerous for your pet. Depending on the product, health complications can include internal bleeding, brain swelling, and organ failure. When using a rodenticide, ensure your pet can’t access the area.
No. 5: Check your car for cats
A warm vehicle engine can attract outdoor and feral cats, but this is an extremely dangerous resting place. Check under your car and honk your horn before cranking your vehicle, to ensure no feline friends are taking refuge on your engine.
No. 6: Don’t let your pet walk on frozen water
A frozen water source looks like an open landscape to your pet, but the ice may not support their weight. Do not allow your pet to walk on frozen ponds, lakes, and streams.
No. 7: Recognize when your pet is affected by cold weather conditions
Pets are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite, and you should be able to recognize the signs in case your pet is affected. Specifics include:
- Hypothermia — A pet’s normal body temperature is 100.5 degrees to 102.5 degrees, and they are considered hypothermic if their temperature drops below 98 degrees. Initial signs include shivering, muscle stiffness, lethargy, difficulty walking, pale gums, cool ears and extremities, and confusion. As hypothermia worsens, signs include fixed and dilated pupils, slow and irregular heart and breathing rates, and collapse.
- Frostbite — Frostbite is skin and tissue damage caused by extreme cold. When temperatures drop below 32 degrees, blood vessels close to the skin constrict, to divert blood toward the core and preserve the core body temperature, reducing blood flow in areas such as the paws, ears, and tail. Cold temperatures combined with reduced blood flow can freeze the tissue in these areas and cause severe damage. Signs include discoloration (i.e., white, grey, or blue) in the affected area, coldness to touch, pain when the area is touched, swelling, skin blisters or ulcers, and blackened areas.
Following these tips can help you and your pet stay safe and enjoy the cold weather. However, if your pet develops hypothermia or frostbite, contact our Fear Free team at Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital, so we can warm them safely and ensure they receive the medical care they need.