Brrrr! Minnesota can get very cold. The record for the coldest temperature in the state is sixty degrees below zero. While most pet owners are aware of how to protect their pets from warm weather dangers like hot cars and heatstroke, cold weather pet dangers aren’t as well known. Here are a few questions pet owners should ask themselves as the temperature drops and winter marches on.
1. Do you have a high-risk pet?
Pets’ cold tolerance varies based on their coat, body fat, age, activity level, and overall health. Breed also plays a role. Other signs that your pet is at higher risk of danger in cold temperatures include:
- Short-haired pets
- Short-legged pets (Their bodies are more likely to come in contact with the snow and cold ground)
- Very young or very old pets (These pets have a harder time regulating their body temperature)
- Pets with chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, or cancer
2. Does your pet have arthritis?
Senior dogs often have arthritis which is more noticeable during cold weather. Joints become stiffer and mobility is limited. Arthritic pets may have difficulty walking on snow and ice which may make them more prone to slipping or getting injured. It’s a good idea to shorten walks in cold, snowy, or icy weather. Consult with your veterinarian about medications and other treatments that are available to keep your pet comfortable and ease arthritis pains during cold winter days. You can find more tips on how to help your arthritic pet this winter here.
3. Are your dog’s paws protected?
During the winter, check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury such as dry, cracked paw pads. When outside, a sudden limp may be due to ice accumulation between the toes. Sweat glands in a dog’s paw release moisture which can freeze in cold weather. This causes ice balls to form. To protect your dog’s paws, invest in booties, clip the hair between your dog’s toes, and use paw balms.
4. Does your pet walk in areas with de-icing salt?
De-icing salt, even pet-safe salt, can irritate the skin of your pet’s feet. After walking on any salted roadways or sidewalks, rinse and dry your pet’s paws when you get home. Don’t forget the legs and belly, too! Short-legged pets may pick up de-icers, antifreeze, or other chemicals during walks, not to mention dirt and grime from slushy, dirty snow. A good wipe-down will help remove dirt and chemicals from your pet’s feet and fur.
5. Is it safe for my pet to be outside in the car or in a doghouse?
Just like you wouldn’t leave your pet in a hot car, you should never leave your pet in a car in cold temperatures. Dogs can develop hypothermia if left for too long. Many states have laws against leaving pets in a car, whether it’s summer or winter. You also shouldn’t leave your pets outside when it’s cold out. Dr. Ernie Ward, a public figure in the veterinary field, made this video to demonstrate how dangerous the cold can be for pets left in doghouses outside all night.
6. Do you have a pet first aid kit?
The Twin Cities have already had several winter storms that have impeded travel and caused cancellations and closures. We advise having a snow day emergency kit in your home, as well as each of your cars, for both you and your pets. Here’s a list of the top ten items to have in your pet first aid kit, as well as more tips here. You should also keep an adequate supply of your pet’s food and prescription medications on hand so you don’t have to run out in a blizzard to get to the store for food or the clinic for refills.
7. What about cats?
As far as our feline friends are concerned, outdoor and feral cats are with us year-round. A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source. This can be deadly if the car is turned on. If your car is not parked in a garage, develop the habit of banging on the hood of your car or honking the horn before starting the engine.
Contact your family veterinarian with questions about your specific pet and things you can do to keep your pet healthy, active, happy and comfortable during the winter months. Stay prepared, and don’t forget – spring is not that far away!
For more cold weather pet safety tips, check out these articles:
- Minnesota Winter Weather Guide for Pets
- How to Keep Dogs and Cats Safe from Cold Weather
- Four Common Winter Hazards for Pets
- Keep Your Pets Active this Winter