Winter Safety Tips
It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur. This is untrue. Similar to people, dogs and cats are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. Know your pet’s limits, their activity level, their hair coat or body fat stores, and adjust outdoor activities accordingly. Old, young, or wet dogs are at a greater risk of hypothermia and/or frostbite. Short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground. Pets with underlying illnesses (diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature.
Frostbite occurs when exposed tissue becomes so cold ice crystals form within the tissue, causing irreversible damage. In our pets, this most often occurs on ears, paws, and the tail. Monitor for signs of frostbite such as redness in the early stages, or cold, pale/white areas in the late stages. Please bring your pet in to a veterinary clinic if you notice any of this signs. Salt and other chemicals used to melt the snow and ice can irritate paw pads, and track the chemicals into your house. Clean the paw pads (and belly if short-legged) when you come inside, and monitor for injuries such as cracked paw pads or bleeding.
Many people know the dangers of leaving their pets in parked cars during the summer months, but leaving your pet in a car during the winter months can be just as dangerous. A car amplifies the effects of extreme weather, and in the winter a car can easily reach temperatures below freezing, causing your pet harm. Additionally, do not leave your pet in the car if it is warming up in the garage. The garage can trap carbon monoxide, and it can take only minutes for a pet to die from this exposure.
With the cold temperatures, pets left outside and wild animals may seek shelter in places we do not think about. Animals sometimes choose to sleep under the hoods of cars where it is warmer. When the motor is started, the animal can be injured or killed in the fan belt. To prevent this, bang loudly on the hood of the car or honk the horn, and wait a few seconds before starting the car to allow any animal the chance to escape.
Antifreeze is a sweet tasting chemical that animals may frequently come into contact with during the winter months. The ethylene glycol in antifreeze is deadly, and causes acute kidney failure in our pets and wild animals. Please keep it away from children and pets, and wipe up any spills that you notice. You may also use an anti-freeze coolant that is made with propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
Ideally, all pets would be brought inside during winter months. If your pet must stay outside, make sure they have a warm, dry, stable shelter against the wind and elements. Ensure they have fresh, non-frozen drinking water. Outdoor pets may require more food since keeping warm requires a large amount of energy. Sweaters and booties will help keep your pet warm, and protect them from not only the cold, but chemicals and toxins they may come into contact with during these winter months.
The holidays bring lots of guests, decorations, and activity around the house. Make sure house guests close all appropriate doors so your pets do not escape. Animals may lose their sense of smell and direction after a large snowfall, and become lost. Make sure your pets have collars with up to date information on their tags.
Keep electrical cords out of the pet’s reach; electrocution can occur if a pet chews on the cord. Clinical signs of electrocution include electrical burns in the mouth, difficulty breathing, seizures, cardiac arrest, and require immediate veterinary care. Ribbons, tinsel, and pine needles from trees may cause gastrointestinal problems if your pet ingests them, including obstruction of the intestines that requires emergency surgery. Pets may think glass ornaments are toys and break them or ingest them. If your pet develops gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and/or diarrhea), please have them evaluated by a veterinarian.