Brrr! The air is getting colder, the leaves are changing color, and snow is starting to flurry down from the sky. Without a doubt, winter is coming. In some parts of the country, it may have already arrived! As we break out our fall and winter coats and dust off those old winter hats and mittens, we mustn’t forget about also preparing our pets for the cold.
Different dog breeds and cats have different cold-weather needs, so it is important to understand and recognize how your pet may be feeling while exposed to the cold.
Smaller dogs and cats, especially those with less fur, are more likely to feel the effects of cold weather. It’s important to remember that if you feel cold, then your small fur-baby is likely feeling the cold as well. Cold tolerance can also be impacted by many other factors, including age, body fat percentage, and general overall health condition. Very young or old pets and pets with chronic illnesses or malnutrition are more prone to hypothermia.
Arthritic pets may also experience increased joint stiffness during the colder months. Giving regular joint supplements can help prevent the development of arthritis and stiffness, and helps to keep the joints well-lubricated.
Hypothermia is a dangerous condition that occurs when the body temperature becomes too low to function correctly. Signs that your pet may be experiencing hypothermia include:
3. Shivering that stops and is followed by lethargyIf any of those signs are seen, please bring your pet indoors and cover him or her with warm blankets and warm heat packs or blow with a hairdryer set to medium. Take care not to burn your pet during this process. If the heat is too hot for your inner wrist, then it is likely too hot for your pet. Contact your veterinarian immediately for the next steps or rush them into your nearest veterinary clinic if one is close by.
Frostbite can occur if cells start dying due to prolonged exposure to the cold. Frostbite usually affects the extremities first, such as the ears, nose, toes, and tail. The skin in this area typically becomes pale, then blue-gray, and finally black in color. Immediate vet care is necessary.
Shelters for outdoor pets
For all pets, keeping them indoors is the safest way to help them stay warm during the winter months. If pets must stay outside, such as in the case of feral cats, then providing a warm, enclosed shelter is the next best option. Stock the shelter with plenty of blankets and towels so your pet can burrow and cover themselves if needed. When the temperature dips to below freezing, even outdoor pets should be brought inside.
Pets that are only outside for walks or when supervised can benefit from layering up with warm winter clothing and accessories. Insulating boots can prevent heat from escaping from the paw pads. Use warm sweaters or coats to keep your pet’s core body temperature toasty. With all new things, please monitor your pet when first wearing any new clothing or accessories.
Cold isn’t the only hazard to be aware of during the winter months. A number of other common winter risks include:
1. Antifreeze toxicity
Antifreeze, or ethylene glycol, is a chemical that is commonly used to prevent car engines from becoming too cold and freezing over. Unfortunately, the sweet taste of ethylene glycol can be very tempting for pets (and children) and even just a few drops can be extremely toxic, leading to lethargy, vomiting, incoordination, excessive drinking and urinating, hypothermia, seizures, coma, and death. Even if a pet survives the acute effects, there can be lasting irreversible kidney damage.
Any antifreeze spills must be cleaned immediately and containers of antifreeze should be stored carefully.
2. Salt injuries and toxicity
Salt is commonly sprinkled on walkways to prevent ice from forming. When pets walk on salt with their bare paws, the salt can burn and irritate their paw pads. Furthermore, pets may be tempted to lick the salt off of their paws, which can lead to toxicity if too much is ingested or if there are other chemicals mixed in.
Wearing booties and washing the paws after returning indoors are some measures that can be taken to prevent salt injuries and toxicity.
We hope you and your pets stay warm and cozy this winter! We would love to see your pets in their best winter clothes! Share your favorite pictures by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org OR sending them through Instagram or Facebook!
What are your thoughts, questions, or concerns? Please feel free to reach out to our team on Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, or in the comments section if you have any other questions.
About the Author:
Dr. Debra Chen, D.V.M. has been a practicing companion animal veterinarian for over three years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to moving to the Bay, she received both her veterinary and undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota. After spending a third of her life in Taiwan, she is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Her veterinary interests include preventative medicine, animal behavior, and surgery. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Chen can be found camping, hiking, eating, or traveling with her husband and Formosan Mountain Dog, Tuna. They also share a home with their two feline overlords, brown tabby cats Cairo and Khaleesi.