Winter Weather Tips for Pet Owners!

Fall is here and winter is just around the corner. Cold weather may pose serious threats to your pets’ health.  Here are some tips to keep your pets safe during cold weather:

Make sure your pet is in good physical health.  Cold weather may worsen some medical conditions such as arthritis. Your pet should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, and it’s as good a time as any to get him/her checked out to make sure (s)he is ready and as healthy as possible for cold weather. Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly.
• Shorten your dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling.
• Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground. These pets may benefit from outerwear such as coats, sweaters, and booties. Be advised, however, that wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder
• Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets. If you need help determining your pet’s temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.

It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it’s untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside, or provided adequate outdoor shelter away from wind with warm dry bedding. The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground).  Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.  Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather.
Cats that do not have a warm home will often find warm vehicle engines an appealing heat source,  but it’s deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood.

Don’t ignore your pets’ feet and paws.  We are becoming increasingly aware of how heat can damage a dog’s paw pads, but they are also susceptible to chapped skin and frostbite.  Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes.
Be aware of toxic chemicals used in commercial deicers and antifreeze.  It may be beneficial to wipe down a dog’s paws and underbelly after walks, both to rid the paws of ice and/or toxic chemicals on the ground. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood and clean up any antifreeze spills quickly, as even small amounts of antifreeze can be deadly.

Many pets become lost in winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find his/her way back home. Make sure your pet has a well-fitting collar with up-to-date identification and contact information. A microchip is a more permanent means of identification, but it’s critical that you keep the registration up to date.

Provide shelter: We don’t recommend keeping any pet outside for long periods of time, but if you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds.

Be prepared for inclement weather. Prepare a disaster/emergency kit, and include your pet in your plans. Have enough food, water and medicine (including any prescription medications as well as heart-worm and flea/tick preventives) on hand to get through at least 5 days
Lastly, listen to your pet.  Be aware of behavioral changes.   If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.

By Carly Perry, City Veterinary Hospital, Tulsa

Work Cited: “Cold Weather Safety” \\www.avma.org

Love, The PetsWell Team

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