An Artic blast—the most significant of the season—is poised to send temperatures plunging in much of the western and central U.S. this week. As the icy air mass settles and possible rounds of snow fall across parts of the Upper Midwest, veterinarians at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital are advising pet owners to take extra precautions to help keep their furry companions safe.
“Many people think that dogs and cats’ fur make them more resistant to cold weather, but that is not necessarily true. Cold tolerance can vary based on a pet’s breed, age, body fat percentage, activity level, and overall health,” remarked Harry Weatherson, DVM, BVetMed, MRCVS, Emergency Medicine, BluePearl in NYC. “While huskies are bred for colder climates and are therefore more tolerant of cold weather, most dog and cats are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia if left outside in cold weather for a long period of time. It’s best to keep pets indoors when temperatures fall below-freezing.”
While prolonged exposure to cold air, rain, sleet, and snow can cause paws to become chapped and irritate your pet’s skin, these are not the only discomforts pets can suffer in frigid weather. Help protect your pet from weather-related health dangers by remembering these nine winter-weather safety tips.
Nine winter-weather safety tips for pets
Be mindful of your pet's tolerance. Tolerance depends on a multitude of factors. Short-haired or short-legged pets will feel the cold faster because they are less insulated, and/or their bodies are closer to the snowy or icy ground. If your pet is senior or arthritic, be cautious when going on walks, as these pets are more prone to falls on snow and ice. Also, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or hormonal imbalances may cause body temperature regulation issues for pets. Consider shortening walks in very cold weather, and if you are unsure of pet's temperature limits, consult with your veterinarian. You may also want to consider changing their routine and walk your pet during warmer periods of the day; avoiding early mornings and late at night.
Check the paws. Regularly check your pet’s paws for signs of weather-related injuries or damage. During a walk, salt and ice can irritate or cause harm to your pet’s footpads. If your dog will tolerate them, try foot coverings. Protective paw balms or paw waxes can also be applied. If this isn’t an option, do your best to avoid walking your dog on salt-covered or icy surfaces. Check pads when you bring your pet back inside and wash sensitive areas with warm towels. If paws are cracked and/or bleeding, you may use a moisturizing balm and incorporate this into your daily paw care routine. If symptoms persist more than a couple of days, please contact your veterinarian.
Wipe pets down. Deicers, antifreeze, and toxic chemicals may be picked up on your pet’s fur and paws during walks. To reduce the risk of poisoning (as a result of licking feet or fur), use a warm cloth to clean off your pet from paw to tail after each walk. Opt for pet-safe deicers on your property and in your neighborhood when possible. If you think your dog may have ingested deicer, antifreeze, or another harmful chemical, immediately contact the Pet Poison Hotline by calling (855) 764-7661. A small free may apply.
Be prepared. Cold weather often brings severe blizzards, dangerous driving conditions, and power outages. Just as you would prepare for yourself or others in your household, you’ll want to prepare for your pet. Develop a pet disaster/emergency kit that includes a seven-day supply of pet food, water, and medication, and a list of local 24/7 emergency veterinary hospitals (include phone numbers and addresses). If power goes down and there is a pet emergency, you’ll want to have a hard list of veterinary hospital contact numbers and addresses on-hand.
Provide warm shelter. Like us, pets prefer to sleep comfortably. Provide safe and warm indoor options for your pet and make sure they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water—either by frequently changing the water or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl. Also, keep in mind that basement floors can also drop to below freezing temperatures when temperatures fall outdoors. Opt for thick dry bedding and change it frequently to avoid a damp and cold environment. Use heated pet mats and space heaters with caution, as burns and fires are possible.
Alert sleeping animals. For feral or outdoor cats, a warm vehicle engine can be an attractive heat source during the winter months. Before starting your car, check underneath for sleeping animals and hit the hood or honk the horn to encourage these animals to find shelter elsewhere.
Layer them up. Pets that are young, old, ill, or thin are particularly susceptible to cold environments. If your pet has a short coat, is in the highly susceptible category, or has a history of intolerance to cold weather, consider a sweater or coat. Keep in mind that wet sweaters and coats can actually make your pet colder. Be sure to dry coats or sweaters after each walk or keep several on hand to switch them out when one becomes damp.
Equip with identification. Snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that assist your pet when finding their way back home. Check your pet’s collar to ensure it is securely fitted with up-to-date identification and contact information. You may also want to consider microchipping your pet which is a more permanent means of identification. If your pet already has a microchip, be sure that the registered information is accurate.
Feed well (but not too much). Some pet owners believe that extra weight will provide extra protection from cold, however, the elevated health risks associated with extra weight make this a dangerous belief. No matter the season, it is best to keep your pet at a steady and healthy weight. For outdoor pets, you may want to increase calories in the winter as they will need this to generate body heat and energy. Prior to any increase in calories, speak to your veterinarian about optimal nutrition for your pet during cold weather.