Tips for Cold Weather Care of Your Pets
By Dr. Megan Dundas
As I write this we’re having a lovely fifty-degree day on the heels of two week’s worth of single-digit temperatures. While the weather for the remainder of this winter remains to be seen, another bout of frigid temps is likely. There is no time like the present to review some key points regarding cold weather preparedness for your pets.
A good rule of thumb is that if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet. Temps start to get dangerous for dogs and cats at the 40-45 degree range depending on the coat thickness and the animal’s health. Diseases like diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s disease, heart disease or kidney disease (just to name a few) may affect your pet’s ability to regulate their body temperature.
Twenty degrees is potentially life-threatening for some small breed and short-coated dogs. Ten degrees Fahrenheit and below is potentially life threatening for all types and sizes of dogs and wet weather will exacerbate the risk for hypothermia. Acclimated dogs and dogs with heavy coats will be able to cope with cold temperature extremes a bit better.
Look at your pet’s body language for cues about their comfort level. Signs that it’s time to get your pet inside include any of the following: a tucked tail, ears held down, lifting up paws, whining, shivering, walking slowly or stopping completely; a hunched/tucked posture with a short stride (trying to limit exposure of body parts to the wind and cold). Don’t leave pets outdoors or in cold cars for extended periods of time in cold weather. If you absolutely must leave your pet outdoors, be sure that they have adequate shelter. This includes unlimited access to fresh water (ice does not count); change water bowls frequently or invest in a pet-safe, heated water bowl. The floor of the shelter should be elevated with plenty of thick, dry, clean bedding. The door should face away from the direction of wind. Avoid heated mats and space heaters, the risk for fire or accidental burns is too great.
Remove any trapped snow, salt, or sand from your pet’s paws, their undersides, and at the insides of all four legs when you come in from the outdoors. Keep an eye out for any redness or cracking at the paw pads. Paw protectants like petroleum jelly will protect the pads from irritants on sidewalks and pavement. Booties are an even better option to protect paws. If your dog needs a coat to stay warm outdoors, look for something that provides coverage from the neck to the base of the tail as well as the belly. The Pet Plan website has a handy chart that you can refer to that gives a nice visual on safety in cold weather. (https://www.gopetplan.com/blogpost/cold-weather- and-dogs).
Use common sense and err on the side of caution. You know your pet better than anyone else. No graph will be able to accurately predict how your pet tolerates the cold.