Idiopathic Issues

Winter Safety Tips for Pets

Posted by Jessica Gramlich on November 30, 2015 at 9:47 AM
Jessica Gramlich
Dr. Gramlich is a 2008 graduate of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. After completing a one-year emergency internship in Rhode Island, she spent five years working as a small animal general practitioner in New Hampshire. Dr. Gramlich is the Manager and Program Coordinator for VetPrep, the premiere online study resource for the NAVLE.

Husky.pngCold weather is approaching and this means it is time to think about keeping pets safe in the winter months. Some clients think that fur is a magical insulator that make pets immune to the cold. Unfortunately this is not true. While some animals can survive the winter outdoors, it is important to provide pets with appropriate care and shelter during the freezing temperatures to help keep them as safe as possible. Your best when it's cold or wet out, is to keep younger, older, and sick pets indoors. Here are some tips to share with your clients to help keep pets safe in the colder months

Pets and Clothes 

Tons of people like to put clothes on their pets.  Some animals seem to appreciate the extra layer while many pets are less grateful.  Make sure to train your pet to wearing warm weather clothing.  Jackets should fit appropriately and not be constricting.  And booties especially should fit snug but not too tight as tight booties can predispose dogs to frostbite. 

Antifreeze

Antifreeze is a sweet tasting fluid used to keep cars running in the freezing temperatures, but unfortunately it contains the toxic substance ethylene glycol.  It is easy to spill this fluid during usage and unfortunately the sweet taste is appealing to animals and without immediate and aggressive treatment this substance is extremely deadly.

Reflectors

It sounds silly, but the colder weather brings shorter days and it is important to stay safe in the dark if you are out for a walk with your furry friend.  Reflectors and lights really do save lives by improving your visibility to motorists.  And while we are on the topic of wearing safety gear, don’t forget to wear your bright orange colors if you are walking in areas that are also hunting areas.

Shelter 

All animals need warm, dry, draft-free, and covered shelter.  Most pets are kept indoors sleeping on the couch and watching TV with you, but if you do have outdoor animals make sure they have appropriate shelter to keep them safe.

Water

Animals need access to unfrozen water in the winter time.  Don’t count on the idea that pets will automatically understand that they can eat snow for hydration, they need water, so check the water supply for your animals several times a day when the temperatures dip below freezing.

Appropriate cold weather diets

If you have a pet that is spending a lot of time outdoors in the winter then they made need more calories in order to keep up their metabolism.  Alternatively if your pet doesn’t move from their sleep spot in front of the fireplace all winter, then they may need a few less calories during the sedentary winter.

Potty Time 

If you just got a foot of snow and you want your tea cup poodle to continue to go outside for potty breaks then the nice thing to do is to make a space for them to do that.  We got so much snow last winter that even my winter loving labs had a hard time navigating a pee spot.

If you do spend time outside with your pets during the cold weather please watch out for the signs of hypothermia and frostbite. 

Hypothermia Symptoms

Patients with hypothermia signs often show severe shivering, weak pulses, lethargy, muscle stiffness, difficulty breathing, decreased appetite, a temperature below 98 degrees F, and eventually coma and cardiac arrest.

Treating hypothermia involves bringing the pet into a warm room.  Give the animal sugar in the form of honey, sugar water or corn syrup.  Wrap the pet in warmed towels or water bottles and then wrap the pet in a large blanket.  Do not use heating pads, electric blankets or hair dryers to warm pets. Ideally they should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible to treat any symptoms of shock.

Frostbite Signs

The most common sites for frostbite involve the tail, ears, foot pads/paws, or scrotum. Signs include pale, gray or blue skin at the beginning stages, but that typically turns to red and inflamed skin and eventually necrosis sets in.  These patients are often very painful.

Apply warm water to the frostbitten area for 20 minutes.  Again, do not use hair dryers or heating pads that could cause burns.  The affected areas need to be handled very carefully, do not massage or you could damage the tissue.  Treat these patients for systemic shock and hypothermia.  Be aggressive with pain management.  Many practitioners will use antibiotics to help prevent secondary bacterial infections as the skin sloughs. Pentoxyfylline and aloe have been used to help maintain viable tissue but unfortunately tissue damage can be severe and amputation is sometimes needed.

Many pets enjoy playing in winter wonderland and I encourage you to have fun outdoors even in the winter months, but be safe.  Keep tabs on the temperature and any windchill advisory warnings and keep your pets inside when appropriate.  Happy snowman season!

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Topics: Toxicity

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