Modern Medicine, Old-Fashioned Care

Dec 17, 2012 | General Health

Winter Care for Pets

Extreme weather conditions require special attention be given to our dogs and cats. Pets may have lovely thick coats but they are still vulnerable to freezing temperatures, wet conditions, and hazards to their health and wellness.

There are different schools of thought on dressing a pet in clothing but when it comes to protecting Fido and Fifi from the elements, select proper winter gear such as a raincoat or sweater. Breeds with longer, thicker coats such as huskies, German shepherds or various collies can handle the cold better than short-haired breeds like Dachshunds and Chihuahuas. Much like the case with babies and senior citizens, it may be more difficult for younger and older pets to regulate body temperature, so dressing them in appropriate outerwear is function over style. Booties are also recommended to protect pads from snow, ice and ice melting products.

There are a number of situations to be aware of in order to provide the best care possible to your pet during the colder months:

Health & Wellness – A healthy pet is better able to handle extreme weather conditions.

  • Schedule an examination with your veterinary office and discuss recommended vaccinations for your pet as the colder weather approaches.
  • Certain medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes can compromise the ability to regulate body temperature.
  • Make sure your pet is getting a proper diet to maintain a healthy weight and coat. Always provide your pet with fresh water.

Keeping Warm and Dry – A warm pet is a happy, comfortable pet.

  • Just as you should never leave your pet in a closed car during the warmer months, a closed car in colder months can act like a refrigerator exposing your pet to dangerously low temperatures.
  • Provide your pet with thick, warm bedding.
  • Older pets with arthritis may find comfort with heated bedding—talk to your veterinarian about the proper use of special heating pads and heated bedding.
  • Monitor your pets near space heaters and open flames—tails and paws can be burned if too close to a heat source, and a pet could easily knock over a small heater creating a fire hazard.

The Weather Outside is Frightful – Limit time outdoors in cold and wet conditions or provide the proper shelter and fresh water for animals outside for extended periods.

  • Keep your dog on a leash—Snowy conditions can make it difficult for a dog to sniff its way back home, and more importantly, ponds and other bodies of water that are not frozen can pose a danger of falling through thin layers of ice. Seek immediate help but never venture onto the ice by yourself to rescue your pet.
  • Frostbite—Much like your fingers, toes and ears, the flesh on your pet’s paws, ears and even tails can be damaged from exposure to extreme cold. Signs of frostbite may not appear immediately. Never rub the affected area, instead soak the area in warm water for 20 minutes then wrap the pet in warm, dry blankets and call your vet.
  • Hypothermia—A drop in body temperature below normal can occur when an animal has been in cold conditions for too long. The problem can start with shivering, weakness and lethargy and progress to more serious problems like stiff muscles, difficulty breathing and slower heart rate. Immediately warm the pet by wrapping in blankets and call your vet.
  • Getting trapped—Left outside, animals will seek warmth and shelter from the elements. Cats have been known to curl up next to a warm vehicle engine and dogs could get stuck in snow banks or under porches and cellar window wells. Check the engine or honk the horn before starting the vehicle.
  • Protection against dangers and poisons—Exposure to salts and other chemicals in ice-melting products can result in chapped pads or an inflammation of the digestive system from licking paws. Use a warm, wet cloth to clean paws.

For more information on winter care tips, click on the links below…and as always, seek the advice and care of your veterinarian for answers to specific questions about your pet.