Baby it’s cold outside.
While we don’t have the record snowfall we had in 2016, the inversion is keeping frigid air locked in the Treasure Valley. As we continue into the thick of winter, it is critical that animal owners and caretakers protect pets from hypothermia, frostbite, slips and falls, and deicing salts and chemicals.
A few winter safety tips to consider:
Wellness exams. Cold temperatures may exacerbate certain medical conditions in your pet. These include arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances. One preventative measure is to have your pet examined by your family veterinarian annually. Ask him/her about how your pet’s medical condition could be affected by changing temperatures.
Frigid and extreme cold. Just as intense heat is harmful to pets, single digit temperatures (and below!) are dangerous, too. Your pet’s ability to manage cold varies based on his/her age, the coat/fur density, body fat, activity level, and overall health. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states, “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 the snow-covered ground.”
Besides the cold temps and piles of snow, ice patches can be treacherous for pets. Arthritic or senior pets may be more prone to slipping and falling. Use a leash, and guide your pet to safe areas when possible.
Watch out for antifreeze. Cold weather means cold vehicles which means antifreeze to keep the engines running. Unfortunately antifreeze has a sweet taste that is appealing to both dogs and cats, and amount left lying around or spilled on the ground can be enough to harm or fatally injure a pet. If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze don’t wait, check with your veterinarian for immediate treatment.
Inside is best. Clearly, with the frigid temperatures, it is best for pets to stay indoors. There is a mistaken belief that cats and dogs are more resistant to the cold because of their fur coats, however, it’s simply not true. Pets are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia—even breeds like Huskies who have thick coats and generally enjoy more cold tolerance. This advice also applies to leaving pets in cold cars.
If you are unable to keep your dog indoors during cold weather, a warm shelter is crucial as well as access to fresh (not frozen) water. Watch for signs of cold-related problems in your pet including whining, shivering, anxiety, moving slowly—or not moving, appearing weak, and looking for warm places to burrow; all of these are signs of hypothermia— a serious veterinary emergency situation. Frostbite damage may not show until a few days after the damage is done. Regardless, if you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Peek at the paws: During and after a walk, check your dog’s paws for cold weather injuries like cracked pads or bleeding. In addition, if you notice a sudden lameness or limping during the walk, it may be due to ice build-up between your pet’s toes. You can purchase snowshoes or booties for dogs and cozy sweaters for those with short coats.
Wipe down: After you’ve been outside, check your dog’s feet, legs, and belly for deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic.
Stay safe and enjoy the season!