By Susan Smith Kline
Just because your pet is wearing a fur coat, it doesn’t mean they won’t feel the cold. Please don’t leave your dog chained outside all day with no shelter. And your cats cannot be expected to fend for themselves by being left out in the cold all day and all night without any type of warming shelter.
Just like you, your pet prefers comfortable sleeping places and may change its location based on their need for more or less warmth. Give them some safe options to allow them to vary their sleeping place to adjust to their needs.
Just like people, your pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly.
You might need to shorten your dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and 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 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances may have a harder time regulating their body temperature and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets.
Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it’s not true. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather, but no pet should be left outside for long periods in below-freezing weather.
If you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him or her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, nonfrozen water by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl. The floor of their shelter should be off of the ground to minimize heat loss into the ground, and the bedding should be thick, dry, and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from the winds. Space heaters and heat lamps should not be used because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.
During walks, your dog’s feet, legs, and belly may pick up de-icers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, it’s best to wipe down or wash your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after he or she licks them off of their feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe de-icers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood. Clean up any antifreeze spills quickly, as even small amounts of antifreeze can be deadly.
Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his or her toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of iceball accumulation by clipping the fur between your dog’s toes.
If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it’s deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to get out from under the hood.
Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so please keep your animals inside. If left outdoors, pets can freeze, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured, or killed. Also, don’t leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, as cars can act as refrigerators that hold in the cold and cause animals to freeze to death.
Let’s keep our pets safe this winter.