Winter and Cold Weather Pet Safety

Whether you love the frosty temps or can’t wait for the first signs of spring, be pet-prepared to keep your furry friends safe, happy, warm, and cozy this winter season.

Winter and Cold Weather Pet Safety Tips

As Dr. Strickland alluded to in our New Year’s Resolutions article, even though our pets don beautiful fur coats, animals are not as conditioned for the cold as you might think and are still susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.   Shorten walks and do not leave pets outside for extended periods of time.  After your walks, examine your pet’s feet for snowballs in the webbing and ice that can cut their pads.  We recommend a coat for short haired animals during your walks or supervised playtime. To minimize the risk of a wet coat or sweater causing frostbite, make sure to remove the garment promptly after coming indoors.  Booties are fine too (With the added bonus of helping to keep your house cleaner!), just be sure they are fitted properly and not too tight, which can decrease circulation  Also, watch out for over-exertion in the deep snow. Many animals will tear knee ligaments and pull muscles by running and jumping in the snow, especially when adrenaline makes them feel like they can keep up with you.

Winter and Cold Weather Pet Safety Tips - Leesburg Veterinary Hospital

While each pet is unique and may react to cold tolerance differently, it’s important to monitor your pets for any abnormal changes in behavior or physical state.  Long-haired and thick-coated pets tend to have more cold tolerance than those with shorter hair.  The same holds true for pets with shorter legs – they tend to get colder faster because their bodies are closer to the cold, snow-covered ground.  Pets with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances, very young puppies and kittens, and senior pets may also have a harder time regulating their body temperatures to adjust to the external extremes.  If you notice your pet (even healthy pets!) whining or shivering, or showing signs of anxiety, weakness, stiffness, lack of movement, lack of appetite or trouble breathing, they may be exhibiting signs of hypothermia.  If you suspect hypothermia, wrap your pet in a warm blanket ( you can warm blankets in the dryer for a few minutes) and call us immediately.  Do not use hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets as this may cause burns or cause surface blood vessels to dilate, which reduces circulation to vital organs.

Winter and Cold Weather Pet Safety Tips - Leesburg Veterinary Hospital

When the temperature drops, our outdoor and feral feline friends will be looking for comfortable and warm sleeping places, making car wheel wells or hoods particularly cozy nesting spots.  Before starting your car, tap on the hood, check the wheel wells and honk the horn.

Even cats that primarily live outdoors shouldn’t be exposed to the extreme elements and temperature drops.  If possible, try to transition your outdoor cat to indoor living a few months before the cold weather begins.  Some cats, including ferals, only feel safe outside and cannot be transitioned to indoor accommodations.  These guys still need a warm, dry shelter once temperatures dip below freezing.  Shelters can be as simple as a cardboard box lined with blankets or old sleeping bags, or a little more luxurious like a store-bought pet bed.  Try to place the shelter in a somewhat warmer location like the garage, a covered porch, or beneath a carport.  Preferably, placing the shelter off the ground will keep it warmer than if placed directly on the cold ground.  Always check the shelter’s bedding at least once a day to make sure it isn’t wet or frozen.

Winter and Cold Weather Pet Safety Tips - Leesburg Veterinary Hospital

Did you know that the antifreeze used in our cars to prevent engine damage during the winter is a deadly poison?  Antifreeze contains the chemical compound ethylene glycol, which is extremely poisonous to both humans and animals; it is attractive to animals (and sometimes children) because of its syrupy sweet taste.  It doesn’t take a large amount of antifreeze to be harmful either.  For example, cats can be poisoned just by walking through an antifreeze puddle and then licking its paws while cleaning.  Keep this and all chemicals out of reach and clean up spills immediately.  Before coming inside, make sure to wipe down your pet’s paws, legs, and belly to remove any chemicals, rock salt, or deicers.  Consider buying pet-safe deicers; some antifreeze contains an embittering agent to discourage consumption.  If you suspect your pet has been exposed to antifreeze, contact us immediately. Do not wait for them exhibit signs of sickness.

We hope this list helps as you prepare for the frosty months ahead.  Much of the information contained in this article was obtained from AVMA and WebMD.  Feel free to share your winter pet safety suggestions on our Facebook page.  Stay warm everyone!

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