Protect your pet from cold weather

Some important tips to keep your furry friend happy and healthy this cold season:

Pets need protection from extreme temperatures, which includes warm, dry, draft-free shelter, plenty of food and lots of water. Take precautions any time the temperatures drop below freezing. Always remember if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet.

Check your dog’s paws often for signs of cold-weather injury or damage. These might be things such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. A sudden lameness during a walk may be due to an injury or might be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of ice and balls of snow from accumulating by clipping the hair between your dog’s toes.

Wearing boots can protect your dog’s sensitive paws, not only from the cold but also from rock salt and chemical products used to melt snow and ice. To get your dog used to wearing boots, use positive reinforcement with a clicker and treats. The goal is to associate wearing boots with something positive for your animal. You may also try slipping baby socks onto his paws to get him used to the feel of something on his feet. Once your pet accepts the socks, he’s probably ready for some booty bling. If you decide to use protective booties for your dog, make sure they fit snuggly but are not too tight. Otherwise, they may cut off your dog’s circulation and cause frostbite.

Stray cats sometimes try to find warm places in the winter to sleep for the night and under a car by a warm engine is a prime spot for them to hide from the elements. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their burrow under the hood.

Just like people, pets‘ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet. It varies based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. 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. 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 in below-freezing weather.

Cold weather may worsen some medical conditions. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, arthritis, 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 younger and older animals. Puppies and kittens, as well as older dogs and cats, shouldn’t be allowed outside, no matter how well-dressed. It is because they don’t have the fat, metabolism, or the full fur coat they need to stay warm when temperatures drop.

Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Frostbite occurs when an animal’s body gets so cold that the blood is pulled from the extremities to warm the inner body and keep the vital organs functioning.

When walking or playing with your dog near a frozen pool, lake, river or pond, make sure they do not go onto its surface since they could fall through the ice. Keep your furry buddy on a leash and supervise them at all times.

Antifreeze often accumulates on driveways and roads. Antifreeze is thick, very sweet, and can be irresistible to some pets. Although many animals like the smell and taste of antifreeze, it is highly poisonous and can be deadly, even in very small amounts. A cat can be poisoned just by walking through spilled antifreeze and then licking its paws during his regular self-grooming. If you suspect your cat or dog has been exposed to antifreeze, don’t wait to see if they act sick. Bring it in to your veterinarian for treatment immediately. Some things to avoid antifreeze poisoning are as follows: clean up any spills, keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and keep out of reach and make sure your car isn’t leaking any fluids. Also, keep an eye out for any spots that may be spilled from other vehicles when out walking with your dog.

Remember, all temperatures aren’t created equally. The temperature as it reads on a thermometer isn’t the only environmental factor that influences how animals feel the cold.

  • Wind chill – A vigorous breeze can quickly cut through a dog’s coat and hugely decreases its ability to insulate and protect against cold temperatures.
  • Dampness – Rain, wet snow, heavy fog, and going for a swim. Any type of dampness that soaks through the fur can rapidly chill a dog even if the air temperature is not that cold.
  • Cloud cover – Cloudy days tend to feel colder than sunny days because dogs can’t soak up the sun and warm themselves.
  • Activity – If dogs are going to be very active while they are outside, they may create enough extra body heat to keep them comfortable even if the temperature is quite low.

Consider engaging your animal with some stimulating indoor activities, such as hide-and-seek with their favourite toy or treat. Did you know that for a dog, 15 minutes of mental stimulation can be equivalent to an hour of running in terms of energy expenditure?

If you have any questions, please feel free to call your veterinary clinic for more information on these topics.

Written by: Miranda Kitzul, RVT