Cold weather can be an enjoyable time for your pets, but it also has its share of hazards. When temperatures drop, people often think their pets are protected by their fur, but this is not always the case. Just like their owners, pets are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia with extended exposure to cold temperatures. The wind chill often puts pets at further risk. To protect your pets, bring them indoors if at all possible. If not, be sure to create a shelter for them that protects them from the cold, wet, and wind. The shelter should be insulated with the opening protected or facing away from the direction of incoming storms. It should be big enough for the pet to stand and turn around. The floor should have good bedding such as straw, hay, blankets, or towels. The water bowl should be heated to protect it from freezing.
If your pet stays inside and goes in and out using a pet door, be sure the door can not be blocked by snow or ice. If the door gets blocked, the pet could be trapped outside in the cold for an extended period of time.
It’s still recommended to exercise your pet during the cold winter months, but precautions need to be taken. For short haired or small pets, consider using a jacket to protect them from the cold. Be sure that they are still able to move easily with the jacket in place. Also, remember that crusted snow and ice can be rough and sharp resulting in cuts and abrasions to your pet’s paws. Salt used on walkways and roads can also be an irritant to your pet’s paw pads. Consider using dog booties for walking in these conditions. If your pet won’t tolerate them, then check your pet’s paws thoroughly upon returning to the house. Use a wet, warm towel to clean their paws of salt, ice, and snow. If bleeding, cuts, or abrasions are seen, consult your veterinarian. Also, sudden lameness in a pet is a red flag that could indicate a paw or more serious problem, and it requires a visit to your veterinarian.
Slip and falls can be another hazard to your pet. Icy stairs and steps can cause a pet to fall and be injured. Be careful when navigating over this type of surface.
Frozen or partially frozen water in creeks or lakes can be a hazard if your pet falls through the ice or just falls into the icy water. Hypothermia, frostbite, or drowning can occur. If walking your pet, be sure they are on a leash, so it can be used to guide them away from water hazards. In a worse case scenario, the leash can also be used to rescue them by pulling them to safety. Always have your cellphone handy to call for help if an emergency of this nature occurs.
Just as owners seek warmth from the cold, pets will try to do the same. This may mean that cats or other pets may curl up on hoods of motor vehicles to get warm. Sometimes if there is enough room, they will curl up on top of an engine block. This can result in great injury to the pet if the vehicle is started. Be mindful of your pets or strays that may be in the area looking for a warm place to lay down for a nap. Check your vehicle carefully before starting the engine.
Antifreeze spills are another hazard for your pets. They are attracted to the sweet odor and taste, but even small amounts can be toxic to your pets. Clean any spills up immediately to avoid poisoning your pets.
Finally, when a pet is under stress due to the cold, their initial reaction is to shiver. They may try to huddle in a warmer place or against the owner to find warmth. These actions should prompt you to take action and get the pet indoors or to a warm sheltered enviroment. If the pet gets very cold, they will become lethargic (low in energy) or lose consciousness (difficult to wake them up). If either of these conditions occur, your veteinarian should be consulted immediately. Failure to act can result in the death of your pet.
By just following a few simple rules and making a few preparations, you and your pet can enjoy a happy and healthy winter. Please take the time today to review your cold weather plan. Your pet will be grateful you did.