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Cats & Dogs in Winter: Dealing with Cold Weather Pet Emergencies

You’re not the only one who feels uncomfortable in the cold weather: your pet does as well. The problem? They’re probably not as vocal as you and certainly aren’t as able to articulate how they feel when it gets too cold for them.

As a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to take notice and to prevent your pet from illnesses and unexpected emergencies caused by cold weather.

Common Cold Weather Issues for Pets

Here are some of the most common cold-weather illnesses that cats and dogs in winter can experience — most preventable with proper care:

Hypothermia in Pets

Hypothermia is one of the most common issues caused by the frosty weather.

As with humans, hypothermia in pets is caused by low body temperature caused by extreme cold. The combination of wet fur and cold weather can be dangerous to dogs and cats and contribute to hypothermia. Other causes of hypothermia include submersion in cold water for an extended period of time, as well as shock.

Anything below a dog’s normal body temperature (between 101°F and 102.5°F; cats should have a body temperature between 100.5°F and 102.5°F) can be considered as hypothermia. Symptoms of hypothermia include paleness of skin, shivering, and listlessness to the point of lethargy. When sustained for too long, hypothermia can be fatal: leading to coma or heart failure (and other organ shutdowns).

As soon as you suspect that your pet has hypothermia, try to keep them warm by wrapping them in warm blankets. You can also wrap a heating pad or a covered hot water bottle and put it near the pet’s body to increase their body temperature. Just make sure it’s not too hot and that it’s not directly on the skin, to avoid the risk of burns.

Rubbing dry can help if the pet is just wet but if you think they might have frostbite, rubbing the area with a towel can damage tissues.

Don’t forget to check your pet’s temperature every 10 minutes. If it is consistently below 98°F (36.7°C), seek immediate emergency veterinary attention. Once it’s above 100°F, remove the hot water bottle to avoid overheating.

Frostbite in Pets

Frostbite is tissue damage that occurs due to the cold.

Frostbite can vary from mild to severe, and primarily occurs on the tips of your pet’s tails, ears, and toes. The severity of frostbite depends on the pet’s size, age, fur thickness, and how long they’ve been outside in the cold.

Frostbite and hypothermia usually go hand-in-hand, though frostbite isn’t as commonly life-threatening as hypothermia (though it can go septic in some cases).

For cat and dogs in winter, a telling sign of frostbite involves pale skin. Watch out for a bluish-white hue, which is a sign of restricted blood flow. This happens because when skin is exposed to extreme cold, the body restricts blood flow to keep only the essential organs functioning.

Eerily, ice also usually forms on frostbite-affected areas, and the skin is often cold or brittle to the touch.

Watch out for these symptoms of frostbite, according to its degree of severity:

  • First degree: Pale, hard skin at the extremities that turns scaly, red, and swollen when warmed.
  • Second degree: Blistering on the skin.
  • Third degree: Skin darkening, which may occur over a period of several days; formation of gangrene.

If you suspect your pet has frostbite, do much of the same as you would when treating cats and dogs in winter for hypothermia: keep them warm. Just remember not to warm your pet directly from a heat source.

Treat the frostbitten area with a warm (dry) towel. Pat them with the towel —do not massage, as this will cause pain.

Antifreeze Poisoning

Antifreeze and rock salt are often used to melt snow so that it’s easier to navigate roads. However, antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, a substance that is sweet to the taste but is poisonous to pets.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include “drunken” behavior, such as nausea/vomiting and wobbly walking, which can escalate to seizures and coma. If you’ve observed these symptoms or suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, contact your vet immediately — the sooner, the better.

Meanwhile, prevent antifreeze poisoning by storing these items away from pets.

Clean up puddles of antifreeze that may come from your car or driveway. Protect your pet’s paws from both antifreeze and rock salt by using pet booties and wiping their paws after being outside. As much as possible, try to get “non-toxic” antifreeze, which contains propylene glycol as an active ingredient instead of ethylene glycol.

Cats & Dogs in Winter: Preventative Safety Tips for the Cold Weather

Limit Your Pet’s Exposure to the Cold

It’s best to keep pets indoors, where it’s warm as much as possible during the winter.

Of course, you can still take your pets out for walks — just make them shorter to prevent cold weather illnesses like hypothermia and frostbite. When you’re out, don’t forget to put booties and a sweater or jacket to keep your pet’s fur clean, dry, and snow-free.

Finally, give pets additional protection against the cold by not shaving their fur as wintertime approaches.

Check-in, Checkup

As mentioned, pets can’t exactly articulate if they’re feeling bad, so it’s up to you to take notice. Every now and then, check your pet’s paws for signs of cold-weather damage or injuries, and take notice of any behavior changes, which could be symptoms for cold-weather illnesses.

This may also be a good time for a yearly veterinary checkup since the cold weather can worsen some medical conditions in older pets (such as arthritis).

Keep Pets Away from Dangerous Substances

Pets can be mischievous, and that gets them into accidents. Keep them away from food that could potentially harm them, as well as other dangerous substances (such as antifreeze agents).

In the flurry of holiday activity, take time to notice your pet. Just this small act can spell all the difference in preventing cold weather issues from developing in the first place.

Final Thoughts: Cats & Dogs in Winter: Cold Weather Emergencies for Pets

By keeping your pet safe and warm, you’ve already fought half the battle when it comes to protecting them from the worst issues brought about by the cold.

Not sure if an issue has become an emergency? Call the experts at 303.660.1027 and we’ll help you figure out the best course of action!

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