How to keep pets safe in cold weather

Sara Welch
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If you’re like me, your pets are family. They have their own napping spots in the living room, a place for their toys, special place mats for their food and water dishes and a permanent reservation at the foot of the bed every night. They’re loved, care for and a little bit spoiled.

As a pet owner, I always want to ensure I’m giving my dogs their best life. Part of that means being aware of how extreme weather affects them throughout the year. Recently, the onset of winter weather and snow has prompted me to consider cold weather safety tips.

Understanding your pets’ cold tolerance

A pets’ cold tolerance depends on their coat, size, age and overall health. Being aware of your pet’s cold weather tolerance will help you determine how long your dog should be exposed to cold weather. In general, it’s a good idea to shorten your dog’s walks during periods of inclement weather to protect them from associated health risks.

Factors to consider:

Age. Older pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to falling. Puppies and kittens are likely to loose body heat quicker than full grown adults and should only have limited exposure to extreme cold.

Size. Cats and smaller dogs generally have less tolerance for cold than larger dogs and should have very little exposure. Pets with shorter legs become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with the snow-covered ground.

Health. Arthritic pets may experience increased discomfort and mobility problems in cold temperatures. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature.

Coat length. Long-haired and thick-coated pets have more protection and are more cold tolerant than short-haired pets.

Keep your pets inside

It’s a common misconception that pets are more resistant to cold weather than people because of their fur. The truth is cats, dogs and other pets left outside during periods of cold weather are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant; however, no pet should be left outside for long periods in below-freezing weather.

If you are unable to keep your pet inside during cold weather, a proper shelter should be provided. Use these guidelines:

Make sure your pet has always has access to fresh water that has not frozen over.

The floor of the shelter should be raised off the ground to to minimize heat loss into the ground.

The bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment.

The door to the shelter should be positioned away from the wind.

Outdoor pets will require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to keep them warm. Make sure you are feeding your pet plenty.

Other cold-weather tips

Hitchhikers. During periods of cold weather, outdoor and feral cats will crawl into your vehicle’s engine bay to keep warm. Check under your car, honk the horn and do what you can to encourage feline hitchhikers to leave before you drive off.

Paws. Check your dog’s paws regularly to look for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding, and signs of ice accumulation between its toes.

Coats and sweaters. If your dog has a low tolerance for cold weather, you may try a sweater or dog coat. Just make sure you have a few to rotate, so a dry sweater is available each time your dog goes outside. Wet coats and sweaters can make your dog colder faster.

Deicers, antifreeze and other chemicals. On walks in cold weather, your dog’s feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze or other chemicals potentially toxic chemicals. Always wipe down your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals when you get inside. One your own, property consider using pet-safe deicers and clean up antifreeze spills quickly.

Identification. Pets get lost in winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find its way home. Make sure your pet’s collar fits well and has a tag with up-to-date contact information. Microchips are also a good option, but keeping the registration information current is just as important.

Ice. If you’re unsure whether or not the ice is thick enough to support your dog, avoid frozen ponds, lakes and other bodies of water.

Hypothermia. If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak or starts looking for warm places to burrow, they are showing signs of hypothermia and should be taken inside immediately.

Frostbite. Frostbite is hard to detect and may not be fully recognized until a few days. This is why it’s important to take preventative measures.

How to keep pets safe in cold weather