Cold Safety for Pets
by Chelsea Pennington, Bark + Boarding Writer and Animal Enthusiast
Most of us are aware of the dangers that hot weather holds for pets, but you may not realize the dangers that cold weather can pose. While it is tempting to think that your pet’s fur coat makes them more resilient to cold weather, they are still susceptible to things like frostbite and hypothermia.
There are several simple steps you can take to keep your pet safe, no matter the temperature outside.
The most important thing is to know your pet’s limits. Animals that are young, old, ill or arthritic are more susceptible to the cold. Other factors like your pet’s coat, stores of body fat, activity level and health will play into how quickly the cold affects them.
To help keep your dog active and still safe during the cold weather, dressing them in a sweater or coat and putting booties on their feet will help them stay warm and keep their paws dry. It’s best to have several sweaters on hand so that you always have a dry one to use — putting your pet in a wet sweater is worse than no sweater at all.
If your pet won’t wear booties, you should check their paws frequently for cold-weather injuries like cracks or bleeding. Rubbing paw protection wax onto their pads can help keep them protected, both from these injuries and from salt and other deicers.
Clip the hair between your dog’s toes to prevent ice from accumulating, which can cause sudden lameness on a walk. When you return from the walk, be sure to wash off their paws to remove ice, antifreeze, deicers or other chemicals they may have picked up. These chemicals are toxic to dogs and may be ingested if the dog licks their paws.
Even when your pet is indoors, take extra care during the cold weather. Give several options of places to sleep so they can choose where they feel warmest, and make sure their bed isn’t in a drafty area. Use space heaters with extreme caution when pets are around, as they can burn themselves or even knock the heaters over, potentially starting a fire.
The dry air plus fluctuation in temperatures between going outdoors and coming inside may cause your pet’s skin to become itchy and flaky. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as they come in, taking extra care to remove any build-up of snow between their foot pads.
Bathe your pet as little as possible during the winter months. Washing them too often strips their skin of helpful oils and can increase the chance of dry skin. Ask your vet or groomer about a moisturizing shampoo to help prevent this.
Cars can present dangers of different kinds. Just like when it’s hot outside, you should never leave your dog unattended in a car when the temperature drops. Your car can quickly become like a refrigerator, rapidly dropping your pet’s body temperature to dangerous levels.
For stray pets, they may be attracted to the heat coming off your car even when it’s off. Before you get into your car, be sure to check underneath it or make a loud noise to encourage any animals to come out from under the car and find a safer spot to rest.
If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, lethargic, weak or begins looking for places to burrow, they could be suffering from hypothermia and should be brought inside to a warm place immediately. Cover your pet with warm water bottles, blankets or towels. Heating pads can burn your pet, so be sure to always have several layers between your pet and a heat source. Frostbite is harder to detect, but if you suspect your pet has either, call your vet immediately and take your animal to receive medical help as soon as possible.