Cold Weather Tips for Pets

By John Carter

Cold weather hazards range from hypothermia to antifreeze poisoning.

Pets should be out in the cold only for short periods, especially if they are very young, old, or sick. They have a decreased ability to retain body heat in cold weather. When your pet is outside, these are the signs to look for that show he is too cold: refusing to walk, lifting his paws, whimpering, or shivering.

Wind and wetness also draw heat from an animal’s body. Keep your pet dry and protected from gusts. Although sweaters and windbreakers for pets may provide some protection, they don’t necessarily keep pets from getting cold. Even “cold weather breeds” such as Huskies need to stay warm; if they have been bred and raised in a moderate climate, their fur coats may not be thick enough for freezing temperatures.

Animals that get lost can get hurt or stuck out in the cold, which can lead to hypothermia, or a critical loss of body heat. Make certain that your pets stay on a leash. Animals that seem to take the cold during short walks can get critically ill if stuck in the cold for hours. An animal that has been left in the cold and appears lethargic should see a veterinarian immediately.

Cats should stay indoors in the winter. Cats that are left outdoors will seek out a warm, though not necessarily safe, place to stay when the weather gets extreme. One convenient warm spot is the engine block of a vehicle that has been recently running. It’s easy for a cat to crawl under the car and up onto the engine. Veterinarians have seen several cases where cats resting under the hood got clipped by engine fans or fan belts when a driver started the vehicle. Banging on the hood of your car before starting it can scare away any cat that may be resting underneath.

Dogs’ toes and paw pads have special problems in the winter. Salt, snow, ice, and the resulting moisture can cause irritation of the skin between the toes and on the surface of the pads.

Booties are a good way to protect paws from salt and snow if a dog will tolerate them. Lotions and emollient sprays available from pet stores may keep snow from sticking, but these may not provide full protection from the cold.

You can wash the dog’s paws with warm water after a walk to wash away salt. Dry the paws thoroughly, especially between the toes, since constant moisture can cause inflammation of the skin. Inspect feet for cracks, redness, and bleeding. Cracked foot pads need veterinary care, since dogs may chew at the itchy skin, irritating the problem. If the problem is left untreated, cracks may widen as the dog places weight on the feet, interfering with healing.

Other extremities, such as the nose, ear tips, and tail, get less warmth and blood flow in the cold and can get frostbitten. Limit the time your pet is outdoors.

Other winter hazards arise not from the cold but from human activities. Be cautious when using a snow-blower, or when bringing a dog along on a snowmobiling, sledding, or skiing trip. Pets can get hurt by these activities. Keep in mind that antifreeze is toxic and attractive to pets, so always keep your garage and driveway free of spills and leaks.

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John Carter

About the Author

love dogs. And if you love your dog as much as I love mine, you’re probably concerned about how to find a safe and healthy food to nourish her. What’s more, you’d probably like to know a little about me and how my website can help you. I’m a graduate of the Medical College of Virginia with a doctorate in dental surgery. My undergraduate studies include a major in chemistry and a minor in biology. In addition to my professional studies in human nutrition, I’ve also cultivated a personal passion for canine nutrition, too.

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