Winter Safety Tips
Cold weather can be hard on pets, just like
it can be hard on people.
There are things you can do to keep your animal warm and safe. Keep
your pets inside as much as you can when the mercury drops. If you
have to take them out, stay outside with them. When you're cold
enough to go inside, they probably are too. If you absolutely must
leave them outside for a significant length of time, make sure they
have a warm, solid shelter against the wind, thick bedding, and
plenty of non-frozen water.
Try leaving out a hot water bottle, wrapped in a towel so it won't
burn your pet's skin.
Your pet's health will also affect how long she can stay out.
Conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and
hormonal imbalances can compromise a pet's ability to regulate her
own body heat. Animals that are not generally in good health
shouldn't be exposed to winter weather for a long period of time.
Very young and very old animals are vulnerable to the cold as well.
Regardless of their health, though, no pets should stay outside for
unlimited amounts of time in
freezing cold weather.
If you live near a pond or lake, be very cautious about letting your
rambunctious dog off the leash. Animals can easily fall through the
ice, and it is very difficult for them to escape on their own. If
you must let your dogs loose near open water, stay with them at all
If you light a fire or plug in a space heater to keep your home
toasty warm, remember that the heat will be as attractive to your
pets as to you. As your dog or cat snuggles up to the warmth, keep
an eye out to make sure that no tails or paws come in contact with
flames, heating coils, or hot surfaces. Pets can either burn
themselves or knock a heat source over and put the entire household
It's a good idea to have your furnace checked for carbon monoxide
leakage before you turn it on, both for your pets' health and your
own. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, but it can cause
problems ranging from headaches and fatigue to trouble breathing.
Pets generally spend more time in the home than owners, particularly
in the winter, so they are more vulnerable to monoxide poisoning
than the rest of the family.
Pets that go outside can pick up rock salt, ice, and chemical ice
melts in their foot pads. To keep your pet's pads from getting
chapped and raw, wipe her feet with a washcloth when she comes
inside. This will also keep her from licking the salt off her feet,
which could cause an inflammation of her digestive tract. Keep an
eye on your pet's water. Sometimes owners don't realize that a water
bowl has frozen and their pet can't get anything to drink. Animals
that don't have access to clean, unfrozen water are more likely to
drink out of puddles or gutters, which can be polluted with oil,
antifreeze, household cleaners, and other chemicals. Be particularly
gentle with elderly and arthritic pets during the winter.
The cold can leave their joints extremely stiff and tender, and they
may become more awkward than usual. Stay directly below these pets
when they are climbing stairs or jumping onto furniture; consider
modifying their environment to make it easier for them to get
around. Make sure they have a thick, soft bed in a warm room for the
chilly nights. Also, watch stiff and arthritic pets if you walk them
outside; a bad slip on the ice could be very painful and cause a
Go ahead and put that sweater on Princess, if she'll put up with it.
It will help a little, but you can't depend on it entirely to keep
her warm. Pets lose most of their body heat from the pads of their
feet, their ears, and their respiratory tract. The best way to guard
your animals against the cold is keeping a close eye on them to make
sure they're comfortable. You can also keep an eye out for two
serious conditions caused by cold weather. The first and less common
of the two is frostbite. Frostbite happens when an animal's (or a
person's) body gets cold and pulls all the blood from the
extremities to the center of the body to stay warm. The animal's
ears, paws, or tail can get cold enough that ice crystals can form
in the tissue and damage it. The tricky thing about frostbite is
that it's not immediately obvious. The tissue doesn't show signs of
the damage to it for several days. If you suspect your pet may have
frostbite, bring her into a warm environment right away. You can
soak her extremities in warm water for about 20 minutes to melt the
ice crystals and restore circulation. It's important that you don't
rub the frostbitten tissue, however--the ice crystals can do a lot
of damage to the tissue.
Once your pet is warm, wrap her up in some blankets and take her to
the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can assess the damage and treat
your pet for pain or infection if necessary. Hypothermia, or a body
temperature that is below normal, is a condition that occurs when an
animal is not able to keep her body temperature from falling below
normal. It happens when animals spend too much time in cold
temperatures, or when animals with poor health or circulation are
exposed to cold. In mild cases, animals will shiver and show signs
of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As the condition progresses,
an animal's muscles will stiffen, her heart and breathing rates will
slow down, and she will stop responding to stimuli. If you notice
these symptoms, you need to get your pet warm and take her to your
You can wrap her in blankets, possibly with a hot water bottle or an
electric blanket--as always, wrapped in fabric to prevent against
burning the skin. In severe cases, your veterinarian can monitor her
heart rate and blood pressure and give warm fluids through an IV.
Winter can be a beautiful time of year. It can be a dangerous time
as well, but it certainly doesn't have to be. If you take some
precautions, you and your pet can have a fabulous time taking in the
icicles, the snow banks, and the warm, glowing fire at the end of
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