By: Dr. Kasandra Garner
We hear a lot about the risks of very warm weather to our pets, particularly when it comes to leaving them in hot cars. But what about cold weather? Do you know how to keep your pet safe throughout the winter? With a few common-sense precautions, you and your pet can enjoy outdoor winter activities without risk.
Just like people, animals’ cold tolerance can vary depending on size, body fat, coat thickness, activity level, and general health. Larger dogs and dogs with thicker coats tend to do better than smaller, short-coated breeds in colder temperatures. Thick coats provide a layer of insulation against the cold, so if you normally shave your long-haired dog, wait until the warmer months to do so. Smaller dogs’ bellies are more likely to come into contact with snow or cold ground, causing them to be at higher risk of hypothermia. Pets with any illness like diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease will have a harder time regulating their body temperature and are more susceptible to problems from cold weather. Cold weather can worsen signs of arthritis, and arthritic pets are more prone to slipping on ice or snow.
Sweaters and jackets can help shorter coated, smaller dogs be more comfortable on cold weather walks, but you may still need to do shorter, more frequent walks in order to meet their exercise needs in the winter. Always inspect their paws frequently since cold weather and ice can cause cracked paws or ice balls forming in the fur between the toes, which can lead to lameness. If “de-icers” are used on the streets where you walk you pet, be sure to clean off their paws after walks. Also, avoid letting your dog lick puddles in the road as antifreeze can accumulate in roadside puddles and antifreeze can be deadly if your pet consumes it.
Never let your dog out on a frozen pond. You don’t know if the ice will support your dog’s weight, and if the ice won’t support your dog, it won’t support your rescue attempts. It’s not worth the risk to either you or your pet.
Wet weather is more dangerous than dry weather, since a wet animal will lose body heat faster. A wet day in the low 40’s is more dangerous than a dry day below freezing. If your pet becomes wet playing in the snow, make sure to completely dry your pet in between outdoor playtimes.
We don’t recommend keeping any pet outside for long periods of time, but if you are caring for an animal that must stay outside, make certain they have a warm, solid shelter that stays dry and protects against the wind. Make sure they have fresh unfrozen water available at all times. Space heaters and heat lamps should be used very carefully as they are a risk for burns and fires.
If your pet is whining or shivering, take them back inside immediately. Frostbite is less common in dogs and cats than in people but it can occur. Don’t force your pet to stay outside in cold weather if they are showing obvious signs of discomfort.
When it is below freezing, the inside of a car that has been turned off does not stay warm for more than a few minutes. Don’t leave pets in the car longer than they would be comfortable at that temperature outside. Never leave a pet in a running car in an enclosed space such a garage because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Most dogs enjoy playing outside in cold weather, so don’t be afraid to take your pet outside this winter. Just pay attention to the forecast, dress yourself and your pet appropriately, and don’t over-do it. Happy adventuring!