Tips to Keep Pets Safe in Cold Weather
Pets can be at risk for hypothermia and frostbite in temperatures below 30 degrees, according to Ferndale licensed veterinary technician.
If your pet could talk, what would they have to say about the cold weather?
According to Ferndale veterinary technician Karen Schaedel, they probably don't like it any more than you do.
As temperatures drop into the teens or even lower this winter season, it's a good time to think about how the furry friends in your family are handling the cold.
The 30 degrees rule
Pet owners should limit their pets' time outdoors any time the temperature drops below 30 degrees, said Schaedel, a licensed veterinary technician at Little Friends of Ferndale veterinary office.
"Unless they absolutely have to be, if it's under 30 degrees I wouldn't keep them outside," she said.
Although she said it's not recommended, some of her clients do keep their dogs strictly outdoors. In that case, providing a warm shelter is the best advice she can give.
"Giving them shelter I think is the best thing," she said. "We want to make sure that they have a shelter with at least three sides and that's raised off the ground at least six inches."
Straw bedding is an ideal insulation if it's going to be outdoors, Schaedel said. A pet living outdoors also needs double their regular amount of calories and water, she said.
Pets at risk for hypothermia, frostbite
Animals who spend too long in cold temperatures are at risk for hypothermia and frostbite. Though some dog breeds have undercoats and are able to stay outside longer, Schaedel said it depends on the breed and many do not have an undercoat.
"It really depends on the size and on their hair coat," she said.
Of course, Buddy or Fido can still enjoy a daily walk outside in cold temperatures – just use good judgement about when they've been out too long.
"Ideally they wouldn't stay out longer than they have to. Walks are OK but we like to make sure they are protected if they don't have very much hair," she said.
Antifreeze, salt also risky
Antifreeze is another risk to animals in cold weather, Schaedel said.
"That's a concern. It is toxic but it does have a sweet smell and taste to it so a lot of animals are attracted to it," she said.
Another concern you might not think of? The salt used to melt ice on sidewalks and driveways could be toxic to animals, Schaedel said. Little Friends of Ferndale recommends pet owners check out the pet-safe ice melter offered at most pet stores.
Even if animals don't attempt to eat the ice, just stepping on it and later licking their paws could expose them to toxins. "They don't even have to lick it necessarily," she said.
Need a sweater?
The dog outfits you see at pet stores aren't just for fashion. According to Schaedel, certain short-haired, low body fat breeds like a Chihuahua need a coat or sweater if they're going to be out in the cold.
"They make little boots for them, too, that can be beneficial," she said. "If you yourself are chilly outside and you would wear a coat or a sweater then it's a good idea to put your dog in one, too, if they're going to be out for an extended period of time."
What about cats?
Although many household cats spend some outdoors, keeping them inside during the winter months is recommended, Schaedel said. Otherwise, cats need the same shelter and food requirements outside that dogs do, she said.
"We have a lot of clients that actually provide shelter for stray cats that live in their neighborhoods," she said.
Tips for keeping pets safe in the winter
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers these tips for keeping pets safe in the winter:
- Keep your cat inside. Outdoors, felines can freeze, become lost or be stolen, injured or killed. Cats who are allowed to stray are exposed to infectious diseases, including rabies, from other cats, dogs and wildlife.
- During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.
- Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm, dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
- Thoroughly wipe off your dog's legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. He can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws, and his paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.
- Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in the colder months, be sure to completely dry him before taking him out for a walk. Own a short-haired breed? Consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
- Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
- Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train him inside. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.
- Does your dog spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities? Increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him, and his fur, in tip-top shape.
- Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center more information.
- Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.