The holidays are over, and the cold winter weather that now dominates is not only somewhat miserable, but also brings hazards that can harm your pet. Snow, ice, freezing temperatures, and ice-melting chemicals are a few of the possible dangers for your pet, but you can take steps to keep them safe. The Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team has compiled the following tips to avoid a winter pet disaster.
#1: Limit outdoor time when temperatures drop
Low temperatures can lead to hypothermia or frostbite in pets in as little as 15 to 30 minutes. Some pets, including those who have short or thin fur, minimal body fat, small body size, short legs, or medical conditions, or who are old or young, are more cold-sensitive, and should be kept inside when temperatures drop, except for bathroom breaks. Clothing such as coats, snoods, and boots can help sensitive pets tolerate the cold longer.
#2: Don’t leave pets unsupervised outdoors
Pets left outdoors can quickly fall victim to hypothermia or frostbite, and they should never be left in cold cars, which can act like a refrigerator and retain the cold. If your pet enjoys playing in the snow and doesn’t want to come back inside, check on them every few minutes to ensure they aren’t getting too cold. Early hypothermia signs, which include shivering, slow or stiff movements, pale gums, and confusion, indicate your pet could be in danger and needs warming up right away.
#3: Keep dogs on leash around water
If you like to go on outdoor adventures in the snow, keep your pet on-leash to ensure they don’t wander onto thin ice covering a pond, lake, or river. Be aware of your surroundings, and never assume that ice will hold you or your pet’s body weight.
#4: Provide warm shelter for outdoor pets
Ideally, outdoor pets should come inside or into a heated outbuilding during the winter. If that isn’t possible, ensure your pet stays warm in a heavily insulated shelter with lots of warm, dry bedding. A heated water bowl designed for outdoor pets can ensure their water does not freeze, and extra food can help your pet generate more heat to stay warm.
#5: Maintain your pet’s paw health
Your pet’s paws need extra attention during the winter to avoid chemical burns, cuts, or torn pads. Keep hair between toes trimmed short so they do not pick up road salt, and condition rough pads with a paw pad butter or cream to avoid cracks or tears. Wipe down your pet’s feet when you come inside, and check for cuts that might need attention.
#6: Increase your pet’s traction
Your pet can easily fall on slippery ice and snow, especially if they suffer from arthritis. Use a pet-safe deicer around your property to reduce ice accumulation, and tread carefully when you step outside together. Boots, traction socks, or silicone toe grips can improve some pets’ overall traction and reduce their fall risk.
#7: Identify pets in case of emergency
Pets who wander away during the winter can have a harder time finding their way home because the snow obscures familiar sights and sounds. Keep pets identified with a basic collar and ID tag, and consider microchipping for a more permanent solution. A microchip implanted under your pet’s skin provides your contact information when scanned with a special instrument. Microchips work for your pet’s whole life, and cannot be removed, worn down, or stolen, like ID tags.
#8: Protect pets from antifreeze spills
Antifreeze contains a toxic chemical called ethylene glycol, and only a small amount can be deadly for pets. Antifreeze also tastes sweet, so spills can attract curious pets. Keep your pets out of the garage or other areas where antifreeze containers are stored, or where the fluid spills or drips from vehicles. Contact an emergency veterinary service, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately if you think your pet contacted antifreeze.
Winter can be dangerous for people and pets, so follow our tips to keep your pet safe. However, accidents do happen, and you should call us to schedule a visit with the Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team if your pet has a winter weather accident, or if you have questions about your pet’s winter safety.
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