Because dogs and cats have built-in fur coats, many people feel that they can endure long periods of exposure to cold weather. Unless you participate in the Iditarod, that is flat out wrong! Some breeds of dogs and cats can certainly endure the cold better than others, but you should be aware of your own pet’s tolerances.
For example, short-haired pets feel the cold faster. Short-legged pets become cold faster because their bodies are closer to the cold ground and are more likely to brush against cold surfaces.
Regardless of breed, all pets have their limits. No pet should be left outside for long in very cold temperatures. Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. They are susceptible to hypothermia and their feet can receive frost-bite burns relatively quickly, because the paws are uncovered flesh.
Some health conditions like arthritis are made worse by cold weather. Pets with diabetes (which is not always detected by pet owners), heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances may have a hard time regulating their body temperatures and may be more susceptible to cold conditions. Exposure to cold in some instances, may lead to irreversible complications in an otherwise undetected condition.
Essential Tips to Keep Your Pet Safe in Winter
- Vet Check – Make sure your pet is well enough to tolerate cold weather. At least once a year, before winter, it’s best to have your pet examined by a veterinarian who can diagnose any conditions that could be complicated by cold.
- Know Your Limits – Cold tolerance may depend partly on where the pet is let out. Near the house or on a covered porch may be easier than long walks or release in a large open air space. Observe your pet to see when the animal appears to get distressed by the cold. Limit your exposure to that duration.
- Paw Check – Check your pet’s paws for signs of cold weather injury or damage. You might find cracked paw pads or bleeding. Sometimes, during a walk, a dog may develop sudden lameness that could be due to an injury to brittle tissue or to ice accumulation between the toes.
- Best Dressed – Consider a sweater or dog coat to increase the pet’s cold tolerance. Make sure the sweater is kept dry though. Wet pet sweaters can make the cold intolerance worse. Some pet owners buy booties to protect the animal’s feet.
- Clean It Up – Wipe down your dog’s feet, legs and belly during your walks. The dog may pick up deice chemicals, antifreeze, and other chemicals that could be toxic. When the dog grooms they could swallow significant amounts of toxic chemicals.
- Stay On Your Radar – Make sure your pet is locatable. Many pets get lost in winter because the cold conditions and snow or ice mask the scents that make home recognizable. Register the pet and use collars, implanted chips or tattoos so that anyone finding your lost pet can locate you.
- Chow Down – Feed your dog or cat well to maintain a healthy weight through the winter. Animals that spend time outdoors in winter will need more nutritional calories.
Some of the dangers that confront pets in cold weather come from the way pets try to escape cold. Cats are particularly fond of climbing up onto the warm manifolds of car engines when they are left out too long. There are many instances where cats and (less often) dogs are injured or killed when someone starts the car in the morning. Make sure you check for the possible presence of a cat or dog before you start the engine of the car. Bag on the hood loudly to wake the animals up or frighten them away.
Double check that you do not leave your pet in the car after returning from a trip with the dog or cat in tow. Cars quickly cool down to air temperature and the pet can be imprisoned in intolerable cold conditions.
If you see an animal trapped in cold or icy conditions, try to locate the owner immediately. If that cannot be done, contact Animal Control and, only as a last resort, law enforcement. Do not enter private property to rescue an animal yourself unless you are willing to face possible trespassing charges.