Pets and Winter Safety—What to Know
As the temperature drops, Fido and Fluffy need some extra care and attention. Whether your pets spend most of their time indoors or are outdoor pets full-time, it’s important that you take into account cold-weather issues and hazards to keep them safe and healthy. With that in mind, we reached out to pet experts for advice and recommendations for their top winter pet safety tips.
WHN Expert TIP – Get the Graphic! Download the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) Cold Weather Infographic and check out the Ask the ASPCA: How Do I Protect My Dog From The Cold Weather? YouTube video for more cold-weather pet tips.
What shape is your pet in? Older pets or those with health issues often have problems tolerating cold temperatures, says the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Ask your vet for advice about how long your pet can be outdoors in cold weather, and whether it needs extra calories during winter months.
“Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health,” says the AVMA. “Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling.”
You wouldn’t go out in the cold in bare feet, but that’s what your pets do, and the result can be frostbite and other winter-related issues. Paw pads can bleed or ice balls can accumulate between the toes. You can cut down on the ice ball issue by trimming the hair between your dog’s toes or even outfitting your pet with booties. (Just make sure they fit well.)
Protect the pads from the ice as well as any de-icing chemicals with an application of petroleum jelly. Or make your own pet paw balm, using this recipe from the American Kennel Club (AKC). Then, when your pet comes in, wash its feet including the spots between the toes and pads to remove any deicing chemicals and check for redness or cracks in the skin. Dry the paws well and if needed, apply a pet-friendly moisturizer, says the AKC.
Cold Weather Warning
Pets have their own way of telling you that they are getting too cold for comfort. Some signs of hypothermia are whining, shivering, appearing anxious, slowing down or stopping, seeming weak, or looking for warm places to burrow, according to the AVMA. As for frostbite, you might not know your pet has experienced it until days later when the damage is done.
If your pet is small, delicate, or short-haired, provide a suitable winter “coat” to keep it warm, recommends the AKC. And don’t forget ears and tails, since, as your pet gets cold, its body automatically pulls heat from the extremities to the internal organs, says the Pet Poison Helpline. If you do suspect your pet is suffering from hypothermia or may have some frostbitten areas, call your vet ASAP.
Keep in mind that wind chill can be just as deadly as low temps. According to Pet MD, “a brisk breeze can quickly cut through a dog’s coat and greatly decreases its ability to insulate and protect against cold temperatures.” (Note: The National Weather Service has a calculator that illustrates what the combination of wind and low temps feels like to your body.)
Ice Melt Info
Winter means ice, and ice means ice melt, usually made of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride and magnesium chloride. While it may be a necessity, ice melt also poses a danger to pets who may ingest it by cleaning their paws after an outdoor excursion, says the ASPCA.
This can lead to stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea, which, if severe enough, can cause dehydration, or even an elevation in sodium levels, resulting in tremors and seizures. (Note: even pet-friendly ice melts can cause digestive problems.) If you suspect your pet has ingested ice melt, call your vet for advice ASAP.
WHN Expert TIP – De-Ice the Paws! Ice melt can also cause skin irritation, says the Pet Poison Helpline. Paws can become red, cracked or chapped. Always clean your pet’s feet after it has been outside before it has a chance to “wash” them, and accidentally getting the ice melt into its system.
Just a teaspoon of antifreeze can cause kidney failure in a dog, says the AKC, making it imperative that you clean up any spills before your pet finds it and watch for any residue on city streets. (Note: not all antifreeze is green in color.) Signs that your pet has ingested antifreeze include drooling, vomiting, seizures, excessive thirst, panting, lethargy and a drunken appearance. Any of those symptoms warrant an immediate call to your vet for advice.
According to the ASPCA, coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic than those containing ethylene glycol.
WHN Expert TIP – Call for Help! If your pet has been exposed to antifreeze, ice melt or other poison, a veterinarian or Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at (888) 426-4435 immediately says the ASPCA. You can also download the APCC number directly to your cell phone.
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