Do’s and Don’ts: Your Pet and the Cold

Winter is here, and pet owners need to be aware of the dangers of exposure to chilly temperatures for their pets that include various health problems, and sometimes death. Ensure your pets stay warm this winter, and avoid hypothermia and an unplanned emergency visit to Ambleside Animal Hospital with our cold weather pet safety do’s and don’ts.

DO understand your pet’s tolerance for the cold

Pets tolerate cold temperatures differently, depending on various factors, such as their breed, size, body fat, fur type, and health. Pets bred to live or work in cold weather have high cold tolerance and enjoy spending extra time outdoors. Snow-loving breeds include:

  • Alaskan malamute
  • Bernese mountain dog
  • Labrador retriever
  • Siberian husky
  • Greater Swiss mountain dog
  • Newfoundland

Other pets are more vulnerable to the cold and may need additional protection outdoors. Specific considerations include:

  • Short-haired pets — Short-haired pets have less protection and typically feel cold more quickly. Do not leave these pets outside for long periods in freezing temperatures.
  • Short-legged pets — Pets who have short legs typically feel cold faster, because their body is closer to the cold ground and snow.
  • Senior pets — Older pets are usually more susceptible to the cold, because they can no longer regulate their body temperature well.

However, all pets are vulnerable to the cold to some degree, and most will feel uncomfortable in temperatures lower than 45 degrees. Monitor your pet’s cold response, and take them inside at the first sign of discomfort.

DON’T send your cold-intolerant pet outside without protection

While not all pets need a winter coat or sweater, those who are less cold tolerant do, and they will benefit from the additional warmth. Choose a jacket or sweater for your pet that provides neck-to-tail protection by covering their neck and belly. Pet apparel comes in many different sizes, colors, and designs, so have some fun, and let your warm pet make a fashion statement.

DO protect your pet’s paw pads

Dog booties can protect your pet’s paws in cold weather by minimizing contact with the salt and chemicals used for deicing walkways and preventing snow and ice from being caught between their toes. If your pet does not seem to need booties, ensure you wipe their paws thoroughly to remove debris and ice. Also, keep their feet and leg hair trimmed to reduce accumulation, and consider paw pad butters, which can keep your pet’s feet moisturized and prevent cracking.

DON’T leave pets unattended outside or in vehicles

You are probably aware of the dangers of leaving pets in cars during hot, summer months, but the cold winter weather can also be dangerous. Never leave your dog in the car, even briefly, in any weather. Pets left outdoors or in a cold vehicle can quickly succumb to hypothermia, so do not put them at risk. Always keep an eye on them if they are left outside in cold weather, and leave them at home safe and warm if you need to run errands.

DO watch your pet for hypothermia signs

A healthy pet’s body temperature ranges from 100 to 102.5 degrees, and hypothermia sets in at around 98 degrees. Smaller pets, young pets, senior pets, and pets with health conditions are at greater risk of hypothermia, which is most commonly caused when they are exposed to frigid temperatures or freezing cold water. You should be able to recognize hypothermia signs so you can quickly get your pet inside or seek emergency veterinary care, if necessary. Hypothermia signs include:

  • Shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Shallow or difficulty breathing
  • Pale skin
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Low heart rate
  • Dilated pupils

You can determine whether your pet is hypothermic by taking their temperature rectally with a standard digital thermometer. If their body temperature has dropped below 100 degrees or they are showing hypothermia signs, immediately take them inside, cover them with warm blankets or towels, and contact Ambleside Animal Hospital. Do not wrap your pet in a heating pad or place them in hot water, which can make them ill from warming up too quickly.

DON’T let your pet get into antifreeze

Antifreeze products often contain ethylene glycol, which is extremely toxic—but also extremely attractive because of its sweet taste—to dogs and cats. Pets are easily poisoned from:

  • Ingesting leaked radiator fluid
  • Drinking from a toilet in a home with winterized pipes
  • Licking up leaks or spills in the driveway or garage

Cats also are at risk for ethylene glycol poisoning if their skin contacts the liquid, which rapidly becomes absorbed in their gastrointestinal (GI) system, affecting the kidney, brain, and liver. Antifreeze poisoning can be deadly, and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Winter weather can be fun for pets, so long as you take safety precautions. If you have questions or concerns about pet cold weather safety, or need to schedule a wellness exam, contact our Ambleside Animal Hospital team. Our high standards of care will keep you and your pet warm.