Jan
29
2019

With temperatures plunging and much of the country expected to remain in the deep freeze through the weekend, AAHA Senior Veterinary Officer Heather Loenser, DVM, urges veterinary professionals to remind pet owners of the dangers that cold weather can pose to pets and pass along the following cold weather safety tips.

“Wearing coats [is] cute, but also functional,” Loenser says. “Consider getting a coat to extend a dog’s time outside while getting exercise. Find one that’s easy to put on and has [a space of] at least two-fingers-width between the skin and coat so it’s not too tight.”

“If you’re caring for any outdoor pets, make sure they have access to fresh, unfrozen water,” Loenser says. Pro tip: “Get a heated water bowl to avoid dehydration.”

And speaking of water,Loenser adds, “Avoid bodies of water. There are way too many stories of dogs who fall through the ice and need rescuing—sometimes along with their owner!”

Sometimes it pays to remind pet owners of the basics, Loenser says: “Cold air doesn’t cause colds—if their pet is coughing or sneezing, don’t blame it on the cold weather. There might be an underlying issue that requires veterinary attention, like heart disease or other respiratory problems.”

Other important tips to pass on:

  • Tread carefully. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice, and are more prone to slipping and falling. Short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground.
  • Factor in other health problems. Consider the pet’s history. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes.
  • Pause for paws. Stop and check dogs’ paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage. Look for cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between toes.
  • Keep it clean. During wintry walks, dogs’ feet, legs, and bellies may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other potentially toxic chemicals. Owners should wipe down (or wash) pets’ feet, legs, and bellies when they get back inside to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that their dogs will be poisoned after licking them off their feet or fur.
  • Know the pet’s limits. A pet’s tolerance for cold temperatures varies from pet to pet based on their coat thickness, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Owners should be aware of their pet’s tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly. Recommend that they shorten their dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect owner and dog from weather-associated health risks.

And one caveat: Some breeds of working dog—Alaskan malamutes, Newfoundlands, and Šarplaninac, for example—were bred to be comfortable in colder temperatures, and many revel in them. So if you see one outside sprawled lazily on a snow bank, don’t assume he collapsed from hypothermia and call animal protective services to report the owner.

Odds are, he’s just basking happily in the bitter cold.

Photo credit: © iStock/Anna-av

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