We all know the dangers of leaving pets out in the heat – tragic stories of pups left in sweltering cars make the news every summer. But many people aren’t as aware of the dangers of leaving your outdoor pets outside in the dead of winter. Most of our pets have natural fur coats that make it easy to assume they’ll be fine in the winter cold. And for the most part, they will be fine if it’s just a little nippy out.
But when temperatures start to drop below freezing, it’s time to start thinking about bringing those animals inside. Here are a few tips on how to keep your outdoor pets safe this winter. And remember – if it’s below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, bring all of your outdside pets inside. No exceptions.
When to Bring Your Outside Pets Inside
Just like people, your pets’ cold tolerance varies from animal to animal based on:
- Body fat stores
- Activity level
Be aware of your fur baby’s tolerance to cold weather, and adjust your indoor/outdoor schedule accordingly. You may even need to consider shortening your dog’s walks in extreme cold weather – this protects you both from cold weather-associated health risks. Arthritic or elderly outdoor pets may experience increased difficulty walking on snow and ice which can make them more prone to slipping and falling.
Long-haired and thick-coated dogs tend to be more tolerant of the cold (huskies and malamutes are great examples), but are still at risk in below-freezing temperatures. Your short-haired pet will feel the cold faster as they have less protection against the cold and wind chill. Short-legged pets can also get cold faster because their little bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with the snow and ice at ground level.
Pets with certain diseases may have more difficulty in cold weather as well:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease)
All of these conditions mean that your pet may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, which makes them more susceptible to the problems caused by extreme temperatures. The same is true for very young or very old pets. If you’re not sure about your pet’s temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.
Bundle Them Up and Wipe Them Down
No matter the temperature, windchill can pose a threat to your pet’s health and safety. Exposed skin on the nose, ears and paw pads are all at risk for hypothermia and frostbite during extreme lows in temperature. So even on short walks, it never hurts to bundle up your pup in a sweater – especially if she’s a short-haired breed.
When things get icy along your normal route, remember that your dogs are essentially walking barefoot beside you. Rock salt and other chemicals used to melt ice or snow can burn and irritate the pads of their feet. Once you’re home from your walk, wipe your pet’s paws down with a damp towel – and try to do it before they lick their feet and irritate their mouth with chemicals!
Leave Your Pet at Home
Hot cars are a well-known threat, but cold cars can also pose a significant risk to the health of your pet. If you’ve ever waited in the car while the driver gets gas in freezing weather, you’re already aware of how rapidly a car can cool down in cold weather – it’s like a refrigerator! This environment can chill your pet rapidly and if he or she is left too long in the cold they can develop hypothermia.
Pets that are elderly, very young, sick, thin, or small are particularly susceptible to the cold and should never be left in a car alone when it’s freezing or below. Limit their car travel to the bare necessities and don’t leave your pet unattended in the vehicle!
Learn to Recognize the Symptoms
Your pet can’t tell you when it’s too cold, but there are definite signs you can watch out for that will tell you they’re dangerously cold:
- Seems anxious
- Slows down or stops moving
- Seems weak
- Starts looking for warm places to burrow
If your pet exhibits any of these signs of hypothermia, get them back inside as quickly as possible. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. Check their paw pads for cracks or bleeding and watch for sudden limping or lameness. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Don’t Overfeed Your Pet
Because weight and body fat content are factors in your pet’s susceptibility to cold, many pet owners feed their pets a little extra to “fatten them up for winter.” In general, the health risks associated with that “little bit” of extra weight just isn’t worth it. Extra weight can make it harder for your pets to walk in icy conditions and put extra strain on their joints. Feed your pets normally when it’s cold, watch your pet’s weight, and keep them in a healthy range for their breed and size.
However, if your outdoor pet will be living outside (in a shelter!) during the winter, they may need a few extra calories to generate enough body heat to keep them warm. If this is the case, talk to your veterinarian about how much you should feed your pet during winter weather. And when in doubt – bring those babies inside! It’s cheaper than buying extra food and safer for your pet overall.
If you have any questions about how to keep your pet safe and warm this winter, consult your veterinarian for advice. At Bowman Road Animal Clinic we want to make sure that every pet is kept safe and warm this winter, so never hesitate to contact us by calling or through our site.