While some people enjoy cold weather and ski trips, many dread the winter season because of the bone-chilling temperatures, snow, and ice, which can put a damper on outdoor activities. Winter can also be tough on pets, because—despite having their own fur coats—most cannot tolerate cold weather any better than people. Pet owners who overestimate their pet’s cold tolerance can put them at risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold weather-related conditions. Learn how to protect your pet from winter’s hazards by reading our Madison Street Animal Hospital team’s top cold weather dangers list.
#1: Pet hypothermia
A pet may experience hypothermia—a body temperature lower than 99 degrees—if they are exposed to cold temperatures for a lengthy time. Each pet has their own cold-tolerance level, which influences the exposure timeframe and temperature level that causes them to develop this condition. Outdoor temperatures lower than 45 degrees can begin to affect cold-sensitive pets, and if the numbers dip below the freezing point, they affect most others, with wind and moisture increasing the danger. Keep in mind that your pet will be more sensitive to cold if they have any of the following attributes:
- Short, fine fur
- Minimal body fat
- Small size
- Senior or very young age group
- Health conditions (e.g., diabetes, thyroid disease, Cushing’s disease, heart disease, kidney disease)
- Accustomed to warmer temperatures
Arctic breeds, such as the Siberian husky, are generally better equipped with cold weather protection, but they can still fall victim to hypothermia in extreme conditions. Immediately bring your pet to a warm area inside your home, and call your veterinarian if your four-legged friend continues exhibiting these early hypothermia signs:
- Rigid muscles and awkward movements
- Extremities that feel cool to the touch
- Pale gums
If a hypothermic pet stays out in the cold, signs progress and can become life-threatening. Immediately wrap your pet in a warm blanket, and seek veterinary care if they exhibit any of these advanced hypothermia signs:
- No longer shivering
- Erratic, slow heart rate
- Slowed breathing
- Unresponsive or comatose
#2: Pet frostbite
When pets are exposed to cold temperatures, moisture, or wind for a lengthy time, their extremities’ blood vessels constrict, shunting blood to internal organs to keep them warm and functioning. Because of decreased blood flow, tissues in the extremities may freeze, and frostbite can occur in as few as 15 to 30 minutes under certain winter weather conditions, usually affecting pets’ ears, toes, tail, nose, or scrotum. Frostbitten tissues initially appear blue or gray, and may become red, blistered, and infected as they thaw. Tissue damage can take up to a week to fully appear, and if damage is severe enough, could warrant amputation. Seek immediate veterinary care if your pet’s extremities become discolored after cold weather exposure.
#3: Pet slips and falls
Snow and ice create slippery conditions that can cause your pet to slide or fall, and become injured. Older, arthritic pets who have weakened muscles and joints are most at risk, but young excitable dogs can also easily injure themselves with one wrong move. Falls can result in broken bones, dislocated joints, and nasty bruises, necessitating an emergency veterinary visit. So, use pet-safe ice melter to keep your outdoor surfaces (e.g., sidewalk, patio, driveway) clear.
#4: Pet paw pad injuries and cuts
A pet’s paw pads can dry out from exposure to salt deicer, cold temperatures, and dry indoor air. Older pets who may already have paw pad calluses are especially predisposed to injuries and cuts. Dry, crusty paw pads can crack or tear more easily, and you should massage them with paw moisturizing butter to soften and heal these delicate exposed skin areas. Pets are also prone to paw pad and toe cuts when a snowfall’s top layer freezes and cracks under their weight. Check your pet’s paws regularly after they have been outside in brutal winter conditions.
#5: Pet chemical exposure
Many ice melters contain toxic chemicals that can irritate your pet’s skin or harm their internal organs if they lick the poison from their paws or fur. Another highly dangerous cold weather chemical is antifreeze. Wipe your pet’s feet and fur to remove chemicals, and ensure they cannot access antifreeze spills on the garage floor or in the driveway. If your pet ingests antifreeze, they could be in grave danger, and you should immediately contact your local veterinary emergency hospital, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, or the Pet Poison Helpline.
The best way to protect your pet from cold weather is to keep them inside when temperatures drop. To entertain your active pet indoors, provide them with food puzzles, training or nosework, chews, and play sessions, or arrange an indoor play date. Limit your pet’s time outdoors, never leave them unattended in the cold, and monitor your four-legged friend closely to determine when they should come inside. Contact the Madison Street Animal Hospital team if your pet is exhibiting hypothermia signs, has sustained an injury, has ingested a toxin, or if you need additional pet cold weather safety guidance.
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