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Cold Weather Safety Tips for Pets

Like many pet parents, you may think that because pets have a coat of fur, they can easily withstand cold winter weather.

However, just like humans, the winter weather can be rough on your pets if you don't give them proper care.

Many things determine the level of cold tolerance in pets, including activity level, body fat stores, coat, and health.

To better protect your pet during the cold weather, you need to know your pet's cold tolerance and adjust accordingly.

This post provides cold weather tips for pets.

Keep Your Pet Indoors Whenever Possible

The most straightforward way to keep your pets safe during the cold weather is to keep them inside.

As stated earlier, your pets are not necessarily more resistant to cold weather than humans despite being covered with fur. If you feel cold, your pets can feel it too.

Of course, long-haired and thick-coated pets can better withstand colder weather than short-haired, thin-coated pets, but that doesn't mean you should leave them outside for extended periods.

Leaving your pet outside during the cold weather puts them at risk of freezing, being lost, stolen, or even injured or killed.

If your pet must be outside for more than a short period of time, cover them with a dry coat or sweater that holds heat in the body but allows them to walk comfortably.

Provide Proper Beddings

Limiting your pet's outdoor time in cold weather is a good start, but there’s more you can do to keep your pet comfortable during the winter. One important thing you can do is provide cozy bedding for your pet.

Allowing your pet to sleep on a cold floor will put your pet at risk of cold. Instead, choose proper bedding for your pets to ensure they stay warm and protected from cold weather dangers.

In addition to the bedding being cozy, it is ideal to raise their bed off cold concrete or hard floors to protect their joints from stiffness, as this can be exacerbated by the cold.

Wipe the Paws after Walking in Ice/Salted Streets or Sideways

Common salt and ice melt chemicals can harm your pet's feet. Be careful when walking your pet on ice/salted streets to avoid the risk of salt toxicity or chemical poisoning.

While you can use non-toxic ice melts on your property, your pet will still be at risk when walking on other streets and walkways. The ice melt can irritate your pet's paws or cause sickness after licking

The best approach is to wipe your pet's paws with a damp towel after walking on ice/salted streets, or to use a paw washer to scrub their paws when they are coming back inside.

Apply Paw Protectant Before Going Out

Even in the coldest season, pets still need to spend some time outdoors.

While using a damp towel is a great way to protect your pet after walking in ice/salted sideways, you can better protect your pet using petroleum jelly or booties.

Massaging your pet's paws with petroleum jelly or other paw protectors is a great way to create a barrier between the sensitive pet's paws and salted or cold surfaces.

These protectants protect your pet's paws from damage and moisturize them to prevent them from drying or cracking.

Placing booties on your pet's paws can also protect them in colder seasons. However, ensure that your pet is comfortable in those booties.

Still, wipe your pet's paws using a damp cloth when returning inside to get rid of any harmful chemicals.

Watch out for Chemical Hazards

In addition to the chemical risk of salted streets and sidewalks, there are other chemical hazards that pose risks to your pet that you should look out for.

Antifreeze poisoning is a serious hazard that poses risks to pets during winter. Ethylene glycol is a harmful compound in antifreeze.

The sweetness of antifreeze can trick the pets into licking or drinking it. If your dog ingests even the smallest amount of ethylene glycol antifreeze, it can endanger your pet's health (cause kidney damage) or be fatal.

The best way to protect your pet from the antifreeze is by keeping them out of the garage and off the driveway and other places where antifreeze and other chemical hazards are most likely to exist.

Signs of antifreeze poisoning that you should look out for in pets include:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy and disorientation
  • Dehydration
  • Rapid breathing
  • Oral ulcers
  • Gastric ulcers
  • Kidney failure
  • No urine production
  • Coma
  • Death

As you can see, the above symptoms match symptoms of other health conditions and toxicity in pets. Seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze.

No Off-Leash Time When Walking Around Water Bodies

It's not advisable to let your dog or cat roam outside in general, but this is especially true in winter. The extreme cold and ice present many potential risks for curious pets.

For example, falls through the ice are not uncommon when a pet encounters a water body that isn't fully frozen while exploring their surroundings.

Ensure your pet is leashed when walking, especially around bodies of water such as rivers, ponds, and lakes to avoid such accidents.

Falling through ice isn't the only problem your pet can encounter while out roaming—your pet may seek shelter and warmth under your car or near the engine during winter. This can put your pet at risk of injury when the vehicle engine starts.

That's why it's advisable to open the hood of your car, check under the car, or make some noise before starting the car to scare any pet seeking shelter there.

Also, allowing your pet to roam freely can put it at risk of being hit by snow plows and other vehicles.

Don't Leave Your Pet Unattended Inside Your Car in Extreme Cold Weather

Extreme cold temperatures in cars are dangerous for your dog in winter, just as hot temperatures are in summer.

As such, you should never leave your pet locked inside your car in extreme winter weather. Extremely cold temperatures can turn your car into a refrigerator, putting your pet at risk of hypothermia.

Leaving your car running when the car is parked in a garage is also not a safe option. This can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can put your pet at risk of suffocation.

Instead of leaving your pet inside your car when running errands, consider leaving them behind with a pet sitter to guarantee their safety.

Feed Your Pet Appropriately

It's important to ensure your pet maintains a healthy weight even during the cold weather.

A common misconception is that having extra weight can give your pet extra protection from extreme cold weather. This isn't the case; gaining weight beyond their recommended healthy weight is unhealthy no matter the season.

The only reason to give your pet more calories in cold weather is if they are spending more time outdoors exercising.

On the other hand, if your pet spends more time indoors in cold months and exercises less, you may need to feed them fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight.

Talk to your veterinarian for advice if you're unsure of your pet's nutritional needs in the winter.

Keep Your Pet Hydrated Even in Cold Weather

Another common misconception is that animals and people only get dehydrated when it's hot outside. However, this is not always the case. One way that pets can become at risk for dehydration in cold weather is if the drinking water in their bowl turns ice-cold or freezes over, making it hard for them to drink it.

To avoid pet dehydration in cold weather, ensure your pet has enough water at home and bring water along when going for walks. Most importantly, ensure that the water doesn't freeze over.

Keep up with Pet Grooming, but Avoid Shaving Down to the Skin

Ensuring your pet's fur is well-groomed in winter is necessary, especially if your pet spends a lot of time outdoors.

Don't wait until spring to comb your pet's fur, as doing so will only complicate things for your pet later. However, don't shave your pet in winter either as long fur helps keep your pet warm.

If your pet's fur is extremely long, only trim it to minimize the salt crystals and ice balls that can dry their skin.

Also, remember to trim the hair on your pet's paws to minimize salt, ice, and chemicals from clinging there.

Finally, bathe your pet regularly as this helps prevent dry skin. After you bathe your pet, squeegee their fur using your hands to remove excess water and then towel dry them. Ensure that they have a warm place to be while their fur finishes drying.

Watch for Signs of Frostbite and Hypothermia

Frostbite and hypothermia are among the serious cold weather conditions that affect pets.

Frostbite occurs when extremely cold temperatures damage the pet's skin. The condition mostly affects the pet's paws, ears, and tail because these parts aren't covered with fur.

Frostbite signs include pale or gray skin, swelling, blisters, dead skin patches, and skin coldness.

Hypothermia is another serious cold weather condition you should watch out for.

Your dog can develop hypothermia if left in the cold for extended periods or if they get wet in extremely cold weather. Dogs with poor health are at a higher risk of hypothermia if exposed to extremely cold weather.

Early signs of hypothermia in pets include weakness, lethargy, and depression. The condition is associated with stiff muscles, slow breathing, and slow heart rates in later stages.

Since both conditions are caused by extremely cold weather, moving your pet to a warm, dry environment if you suspect they are suffering from either of these conditions is a good starting point. After that, call your vet immediately so they can check your pet.

Protect Your Pet in Cold Weather

The above tips can help keep your pet safe during the winter season. Your pet may need special care if they are a senior or have a chronic health issue. The best thing is to work with your vet to help determine the best way to keep your pet safe in cold weather.

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