Most of us are aware of the dangers of leaving our pets in a car during the hot summer months, but did you know cold weather also poses serious threats to your pet? Many people believe because their pets have a fur coat they will be protected from the elements. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The cold weather can be just as hard on our pets as a hot summer day.
Just like people, our pets’ tolerance to extreme temperature is based on the coat, fat stores, activity level, age, and health. Whether you are letting Fido out for a potty break or taking him for a walk, extra precautions should be taken to ensure your pet’s well being during the winter months.
General Outdoor Rules
It’s never a good idea to leave your pet outside in the cold for a long period of time. Wind chill makes days colder than the actual temperature outside. Be attentive to your pet’s body temperature by watching for the following signs of exposure: whining, shivering, appearing anxious, slowing down, stopping movement, or looking for places to burrow. If any of these signs are present, bring your pet in immediately.
It’s also a good idea to trim the long hair on the bottom of your pets’ feet to prevent ice balls or heavy snow from building up. Ice, snow, and salt can irritate or injure your pets’ feet. Always check the footpads and wipe off any debris with a damp towel when they come in from the outdoors.
Pets can become lost in the winter because the snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help them find their way back home. Make sure your pet has a fitted collar with up-to-date contact information. For a more permanent means of identification, you might consider a microchip.
Long hair breeds like Huskies do better in the cold weather than short hair breeds like Dobermans. Smaller animals like cats or Dachshunds that must wade through shoulder deep snow will feel cold sooner than larger animals. Consider a sweater or special booties for short hair breeds and smaller animals to protect them from the cold. Remember pets lose most of their body heat through the pads of their feet, their ears, and their respiratory tract.
We don’t recommend keeping animals outside during the winter, but if you are unable to keep your pet inside, it is very important to provide an insulated shelter with ample food and water.
Provide a draft-free shelter large enough for your pet to stand and turn around in, yet small enough to retain body heat. If possible, place the shelter in a sunny spot in your yard. Face the opening of the shelter away from prevailing winds. Fasten a heavy door flap to the top of the opening to keep winds and drafts out. Raise the shelter several inches off the ground and frame in the elevated area to prevent winds from flowing under the shelter. Use a layer of straw or cedar chips for bedding. Do not use blankets, or rugs as they can draw moisture.
Outdoor pets will require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to keep them warm. Outside pets require 15% more calories for every 20-degree drop in temperature, so make sure to increase the amount of food you give your pets living outdoors. Avoid metal bowls in the winter, and provide plenty of fresh drinking water. Purchase a heated water bowl to prevent freezing, and secure the bowl to avoid spillage.
When wind chills and temperatures reach minus 10 degrees, a doghouse is not enough protection. Bring your pets inside.
Animals left outdoors can become very resourceful in finding shelter. They can look for comfort under porches and cars, in window wells and cellars where they can become entrapped or severely injured.
In the winter, it’s always a good idea to check under the hood of your car. Many cats seek warmth by crawling on or around car engines, which can be dangerous or fatal. Before you start your engine, honk your horn, or knock on your hood.
Be especially careful with your pet near a body of water in the winter. Animals can easily fall through the ice and have a very difficult time escaping on their own. If you must let your pets loose near open water, stay with them at all times.
Frostbite & Hypothermia
Even though your pet has a fur coat, most animals cannot endure the extreme cold for more than 10-15 minutes.
Frostbite happens when the blood is pulled away from the extremities to the body’s core to stay warm. Your pets’ ears, paws, and tail can get so cold that ice crystals form in the tissue damaging it. Frostbite can be tricky because it is not immediately obvious. Sometimes the effected area does not show signs of damage for several days. If you suspect frostbite, gently warm the area with warm (never hot) water, and contact your veterinarian immediately.
Hypothermia happens when your pet is unable to keep its body temperature from falling below normal. Typically this occurs when your pet spends too much time in cold temperatures, or when an aging animal or pet with poor health or circulation is exposed to the cold. In mild cases your pet will shiver and show signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As Hypothermia progresses the muscles will stiffen, heart and breathing rates slow, and your pet will stop responding to stimuli. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia, bring your pet indoors, wrap your pet in blankets, and contact your veterinarian immediately.
Pets are attracted to the warmth as much as we are in the winter. If you use a space heater or light a fire supervise your pets closely. Make sure their tails or paws do not come in contact with the heat source. Do not leave your pet unattended, as pets can knock over a heating source causing a fire hazard.