Your pet’s fur coat may seem cozy, but they can still be affected when temperatures turn chilly. Cold weather presents many hazards that can be detrimental to your pet’s health, but you can take certain precautions to safeguard your four-legged friend. To protect your pet when weather becomes extreme, follow our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team’s cold weather safety tips to ensure your pet stays toasty and safe this winter. 

#1: Keep your pet inside

While some pets, such as huskies and Bernese mountain dogs, have a long, thick hair coat that protects them from the cold, no pet should be left outdoors when temperatures dip below freezing or conditions are severe. Keep your cat inside, and only take your dog out for short walks to relieve themselves when temperatures start to drop. 

#2: Know your pet’s cold tolerance

If you are cold, your pet likely is too. Cold tolerance varies from pet to pet, and is influenced by many factors such as their size, age, coat density, body fat percentage, activity level, and overall health. Pets who are typically more cold-sensitive include:

  • Short-legged pets — Pets who are close to the ground may get cold more quickly because their bodies are more likely to come in contact with ice, snow, and the cold ground.
  • Small pets — Small pets, including puppies and kittens, lose body heat quickly, making them cold-sensitive.
  • Senior pets — Senior pets have difficulty regulating their body temperature and tend to be more cold-intolerant.
  • Short-haired pets — Short haired pets don’t have a warm, insulating coat and are more cold-sensitive.
  • Sick pets — Pets affected by illness may be more cold-intolerant.

#3: Monitor your pet for hypothermia

Your pet’s normal body temperature is 100 to 102.5 degrees, and if their core temperature falls below 99 degrees, their hypothermia risk increases. This condition affects several physiologic functions such as the heart’s ability to beat, metabolism, enzyme activity, nerve conduction, and blood flow. Depending on the hypothermic stage, signs vary: 

  • Mild — A pet is considered to be mildly hypothermic when their temperature is 90 to 99 degrees. Signs include cold extremities, and your pet’s ears, tail, and paws may feel cold to the touch. 
  • Moderate — Moderate hypothermia occurs when a pet’s body temperature is 82 to 90 degrees. To generate heat, these pets start to shiver, and their muscles become tense. Other signs include sluggishness, difficulty walking, confusion, and pale gums.
  • Severe — A pet is considered severely hypothermic when their temperature is less than 82 degrees. At this point, shivering stops because the muscle cells deplete their energy supply. Other signs include slow heart and respiratory rate, lethargy, unresponsiveness, dilated pupils, and collapse.

#4: Recognize your pet’s frostbite signs

If your pet experiences any hypothermic stage, their frostbite risk increases. As their body temperature drops, a pet’s body shunts blood away from their extremities toward their vital organs. When this occurs, poor circulation and the cold air temperature cause damage to the extremities’ tissues, especially in the nose, ears, paws, and tail. Frostbite signs include:

  • Cold — Affected areas are cold to the touch.
  • Pain — Affected areas are typically painful when touched.
  • Discolored — Affected areas may be pale, blue, or gray, and as the condition worsens, the area may turn black.

#5: Dress your pet for a winter outing

If you have a pet who is cold-sensitive, consider dressing them in a sweater or jacket for outings. These garments can help keep your pet warm, but to prevent skin impingement and irritation, you should ensure the clothing fits well. In addition, you should remove the garment if it gets wet, because wearing wet clothing can make your pet quickly lose body heat.

#6: Protect your pet’s paws

Your pet’s paws are vulnerable to the cold, and deicing chemicals used on roads, sidewalks, and driveways can cause skin irritation. Protect your pet’s paws by following these tips:

  • Trim your pet’s foot fuzz — Long hair between your pet’s pads and toes can accumulate ice, forming an ice ball. To prevent this, cut the hair even to the foot surface.
  • Clean your pet’s paws — After an outing, clean your pet’s feet well to remove salt and chemicals from their paws and between their toes and pads. 
  • Provide boots — If your pet will tolerate wearing boots, place them on their feet to protect their paws. 

#7: Protect your pet from winter toxins

In addition to snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, chemicals pose hazards to your pet during the winter months. Many products make our lives easier when the weather is cold, but these chemicals pose hazards to your pet, including:

  • Deicers — Deicers contain sodium chloride and calcium chloride that can injure paw pads, and can be toxic if your pet ingests the substance when grooming. Ensure you remove all mud, snow, and ice from your pet’s paws and coat after an outing.
  • Antifreeze — Antifreeze commonly contains ethylene glycol, which is highly toxic to pets, causing severe kidney damage. Clean all spills quickly, and store the product out of your pet’s reach.

Some deicers and antifreeze products contain ingredients that are more pet-friendly. Always read the label to ensure a product is safe to use around your pet.

#8: Keep your pet leashed

If your pet runs across a frozen body of water, the ice may not support their weight. To avoid a dangerous situation, always keep your pet leashed when walking near frozen water. 

Follow these tips to help keep your pet safe and cozy when the temperatures start to drop. If your pet experiences a health issue this winter, contact our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team to provide your furry pal with the best veterinary experience possible.