Although snow cover can create beautiful scenery, winter’s cold temperatures can pose many dangers to your pet. Pet owners often feel their pet is less susceptible to cold because they are covered in fur, but an animal’s fur coat often provides little protection against winter’s weather conditions. Exotic pets accustomed to tropical or subtropical climates also face high cold weather hazard challenges. To learn how to help your pet stay safe this winter, read our All Creatures Animal Hospital team’s cold safety tips.
#1: Learn to recognize hypothermia and frostbite signs in pets
Pets who stay outside too long in cold weather can develop hypothermia, which can be deadly, and frostbite, which can necessitate amputation in severe cases. Pets who are more susceptible to cold than others can experience these complications within 15 to 30 minutes out in below-freezing temperatures, or sooner when wind or moisture make the environment feel colder.
Keep a close eye on your pet while outside when temperatures are low. Bring your pet indoors immediately if they begin to exhibit these early hypothermia signs:
- Cold extremities
- Stiff muscles
- Pale gums
If hypothermia progresses to an advanced stage, your pet is at risk for dying from organ failure. Wrap your pet in warm blankets, and seek emergency veterinary care if your four-legged friend shows these signs:
- Slow, erratic heart rate
- Slow breathing
- No longer shivering
Frostbite presents as gray or bluish skin on pets’ extremities, most often the toes, ear tips, nose, tail, and scrotum. Extremities are most often affected because blood flow is directed to internal organs to help pets stay warmer. When frostbitten tissue thaws, the skin can become red, painful, and swollen, and may become infected. To help your pet with frostbite avoid severe injury, bring them to your veterinarian, who will thaw your four-legged friend’s tissues carefully and slowly, provide pain control, and surgically remove dead tissue if necessary.
#2: Keep your pet inside as much as possible
Keeping pets inside is the easiest way to protect them from the cold, but they still need to go outside for exercise and potty breaks. When temperatures drop below freezing, minimize your pet’s time outdoors, especially pets who are cold-sensitive, such as:
- Small or toy breeds
- Pets who have short or fine hair
- Senior or very young pets
- Pets who have chronic medical conditions
- Thin and underweight pets
If your pet is cold-sensitive, you can dress them in a coat, boots, and snood to keep them warmer outside, extending their exercise time. If your pet is a large breed or has a thick coat, they are likely more tolerant to cold, and can safely go on longer walks, but you must still supervise them closely.
#3: Never leave pets unattended outside
Some pets really enjoy snow, and would stay outside all day despite the cold. Usually these are arctic breeds, such as the Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute, chow chow, or Samoyed. If your pet insists on staying outside, you should keep a close eye on them to monitor for potential problems, and let them in immediately if they’re standing by the door.
#4: Monitor exotic pets closely
Exotic pets are usually housed indoors, but cold outdoor temperatures can upset their inside environment, resulting in hot or cold areas and dry air. Keep exotic pets away from windows and ensure they aren’t in a drafty area or directly in the path of a heating vent’s forced air. If you have a pet who requires special lighting, temperature gradients, or humidity, you may have to adjust these habitat factors during the winter to keep their conditions consistent.
#5: Use pet-safe ice melters to prevent falls and injuries
Ice is dangerous, especially for exuberant pets who pay little attention to where they are stepping, and for older or arthritic pets who have weakened joints and muscles. Using a pet-safe ice melter on your sidewalk, patio, and driveway can improve your pet’s traction and prevent serious falls and injuries that could land them in an emergency veterinary hospital.
#6: Moisturize and protect your pet’s paws
Similar to humans who experience scaly, dry hands, pets can get dry, cracked paw pads during the cold weather. Use a paw pad butter, wax, or lotion product to moisturize and protect your pet’s pads from injuries.
#7: Wipe down pets after being outside
Your pet’s feet and fur can collect harmful salt, antifreeze, and other chemicals, which can make them sick if ingested, or irritate the skin between their toes. To minimize chemical contact, always carefully wipe down your pet’s feet and the fur on their belly and legs after they have been outside. If you believe your pet has ingested or come in contact with antifreeze, immediately call your local veterinary emergency hospital, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, or the Pet Poison Helpline.
We know you love your pet, and the best way to protect them from winter weather is to let them snuggle next to you on the couch. However, many pets still must go out to relieve themselves and get some exercise, and by following our winter weather tips, you help ensure your pet stays safe. Keep in mind that our All Creatures Animal Hospital team is at the ready if things go wrong. Contact our team if you believe your pet has developed hypothermia or frostbite, has suffered a slip-and-fall injury, or has ingested a cold weather household chemical, or you simply have additional questions about cold weather pet safety.
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