Cold temperatures and winter precipitation can put a chill on your pet’s daily routine. But, the following safety information from Juanita Hills Animal Hospital can keep your four-legged friend from feeling frosty.
Some pets are more vulnerable to the cold
Pet owners often ask, “How cold is too cold for my pet?” Unfortunately, the answer isn’t straightforward—like humans, pets have different cold-tolerance levels, but unlike humans, they can’t always communicate their discomfort or simply put on a coat.
Your pet’s cold sensitivity can be affected by multiple factors, including:
- Age — Puppies, kittens, and senior pets are more susceptible to cold weather and more vulnerable to heat loss because of characteristics such as small size, low body fat, and underdeveloped or atrophied muscles.
- Breed and conformation — Short-haired, hairless, and desert-originating breeds, such as sighthounds, may feel chilly on moderate temperature days (i.e., 40 to 50 degrees).
- Health — Many health conditions, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and heart and kidney disease, can affect a pet’s ability to control body temperature. Cold weather can also worsen arthritis and make everyday movements stiff and painful.
Help your cold-sensitive pet stay warm with a well-fitted coat, sweater, or jacket and minimize their time outside. Never leave your pet unsupervised outdoors, and watch closely for discomfort signs, such as shivering, limping, or “freezing” in place.
Pets experience winter-related health risks
Frigid air, slippery conditions, and decreased exercise create a perfect storm for cold-weather injuries and health problems, including:
- Hypothermia — Prolonged cold exposure causes a pet’s body temperature to fall below normal range. As the body centralizes blood flow to protect vital organs, the pet’s extremities can be injured (i.e., frostbite). In severe cases, their body is fully compromised and experiences complete organ failure. To avoid hypothermia, never leave your pet unsupervised outdoors and limit outside time in below-freezing temperatures.
- Slips and falls — Small amounts of sleet, ice, and snow can reduce traction and turn a brief trip outside into a painful emergency. Slip and fall injuries can include soft tissue strains and sprains, back pain (i.e., intervertebral disc disease), and knee (i.e., stifle) injuries, such as cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture. Protect your pet—and yourself—by treating walkways and steps with pet-safe ice melt.
- Weekend warrior syndrome — Prolonged inactivity followed by an intense romp at the dog park or a long game of fetch can increase your pet’s risk for orthopedic injuries, such as CCL. Keep your pet’s exercise low-impact and slowly rebuild their strength and stamina.
- Weight gain — Pet owners commonly reduce their pet’s outdoor exercise, but not their caloric intake, resulting in weight gain. Reduce your pet’s daily meal portions on less active days.
Watch out for this cold weather pet toxin
Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is a sweet-tasting compound that is extremely toxic to dogs and cats—so potent, in fact, that only one teaspoon for cats and one tablespoon for dogs can cause clinical signs. Pets with ethylene glycol poisoning experience a rapid health decline that can include vomiting, lethargy, drooling, incoordination, and seizures in hours to days. WIthout aggressive and prompt treatment, the condition is largely fatal.
Keep antifreeze and other ethylene glycol-containing products—including some motor oils, windshield deicers, and hydraulic brake fluid—out of your pet’s reach. Spilled chemicals should be cleaned up immediately and thoroughly. Ethylene glycol poisoning is a veterinary emergency—if your pet has been exposed, you must seek immediate veterinary attention.
Ice melt can make your pet sick
Traditional ice melts pose several hazards to pets. First, rock salt and pelleted melts can be rough and abrasive on feet, as well as irritating to the sensitive webbing between the pet’s toes. This discomfort can make pets miserable, and they will lick and chew their feet, which further worsens the condition. If ingested (e.g., often with snow), ice melt products can alter the pet’s electrolyte levels and cause serious illness.
Keep your four-legged friend safe from ice and snow melt products with close supervision outdoors, pet-friendly ice melt, and washing and drying their paws after exposure. Sensitive paws can be treated with petroleum jelly, protective balms such as Musher’s Secret, or with pet boots.
Indoor activities can help pets beat cabin fever
When you have an energetic or outdoor-loving pet, weather-related activity restrictions can make life difficult. Fortunately, you can help your dog or cat burn energy and get some exercise in The Great Indoors. Our favorite ways include:
- Enrichment toys — Fill a treat-dispensing ball or puzzle toy with your pet’s meal portion for a great mental workout. If your pet is new to puzzle toys, choose a beginner level puzzle to ensure success and prevent frustration.
- Nose work — Sniffing is naturally rewarding and mentally demanding for dogs and cats. At-home nose work games include snuffle mats, hide and seek with your pet’s favorite toy, foraging toys for cats, and the muffin tin game.
- Trick training — Learning is exciting and tiring—usually a few minutes of focused training is enough to satisfy novice learners.
Don’t let cold weather give you and your pet the blues—with a few extra precautions and some adjustments to your daily routine, your pet can enjoy a satisfying, safe staycation until spring arrives. For more cold safety tips, contact Juanita Hills Animal Hospital.