5 Considerations for Pet Health and Safety in Winter
When we truly love our pets, no outing or leisure pursuit is quite the same without their company. We do our best to take them everywhere, ensuring they wear their doggy seat belts in the car, have enough water and food to last them throughout the day, and sliding our soft-sided crate beneath our folding camp chair so that our dog can rest between moments of activity and play.
In the winter months, however, we need to take special care to guard against health threats such as frostbite, injured paws and other accidents more apt to happen when the temperatures drop. Follow these tips to ensure your furry friend is cozy and safe throughout the coldest season of the year.
1. Key Temperatures
Determining what temperature is too cold for your pet can depend on many different factors, from fur thickness and length to body mass. This makes it hard to determine an exact temperature that could be dangerous to your pet's health.
Dr. M.A. Crist
Clinical Assistant Professor
Texas A&M University College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
Most experts agree that indoor pets that are not acclimated to cold weather should not be left outside when the average daily temperature is below 45°F. At temperatures below 32°F, be extra vigilant of older pets, pups and those with short, thin coats. Below 20°F, take dogs for only very short walks or just to do their necessities. Try to keep both dogs and cats inside since they could develop serious problems like hypothermia (when their body becomes cold and the blood rushes away from their extremities to their core) or frostbite.
2. Skin and Paw Care
To keep your pet's skin in tip-top condition during winter, add a little coconut or fish oil to their food, or apply topically if you see any cracked skin in areas like the ears or elbows.
While paw pads do have a high fat content and natural protection, many domestic pets are simply not able to withstand icy conditions. Trim the hair around the paws and keep nails short to avoid snow build-up. Apply wax-based paw treatments such as Mushers Secret, or make your own. These treatments help create a barrier between the paws and the snow, ice and ice melt chemicals. You might also try to protect their paws with boots to avoid snowballs and ice getting in between their toes and causing damage.
3. Car Safety
Even within the confines of a closed automobile, frigid winter temperatures can lead to hypothermia for pets; however, it is also extremely unsafe to leave the car running for heat, as this could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. For these reasons it is always best not to leave pets in the car while running errands.
Cats seeking refuge from the cold often crawl under to hood of cars to curl up next to the warmth of the engine. Be sure to thump the hood of the car with your hand before getting into and starting the vehicle.
4. Toxins Prevalent in Winter
Antifreeze is a big temptation for pets, particularly dogs, because of its sweet taste. Keep your dog away from the driveway and garage. Even the smallest amount of anti-freeze can be lethal to pets.
Most ice melts contain large amounts of sodium. Some ice melts can cause damage to the paw pads when stepped on. Granules can get stuck in the paws and cause redness, cracking, or chapping. Ingestion of these melts can cause mild to severe toxicity resulting in upset stomach, vomiting, and neurologic signs (trouble walking, muscle tremors, or seizures). There are “pet-friendly” ice melts that may help to minimize the chance of an injury or toxicity. Also, try to wash your pet’s paws off when they come in from outside.
The use of poisons to control rats, mice, and other small creatures seeking shelter, increases during winter months. If you are using poisons around the house make sure they are inaccessible to your pet. If your pet ingests any type of poison and you need assistance, or you are unsure if a product is safe for use around your animal, call your veterinarian or contact the Pet Poison Helpline (855) 764-7661 immediately. (NOTE: There is a fee for this call which includes all followups.*) The sooner a pet poisoning is diagnosed, the easier, less expensive, and safer it is to treat.
Invest in lovely, soft bedding for pets, made with natural materials if possible. Raised beds will keep your dog far above cold tile or marble floors. If your dog or cat is addicted to the soft crate, no problem; just make sure the bedding you place inside is thick enough and use a heat pad or heated pet bed for extra warmth.
There is no reason why your pet can’t enjoy a happy, safe winter, if you take just a few steps to make them as comfortable as possible. Go for walks when the temperature is optimal, keep your dog’s paws in top shape, provide soft, thick bedding and avoid exposing them to toxins and other safety risks.