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Top 5 Winter Pet Dangers

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As Minnesotans transition from fall to winter, it’s important to remember that our pets are adapting too. Whether you and your pets love Minnesota’s winters or you both wish you could be snowbirds, the snow and decrease in temperature means it’s time to be extra mindful of the additional potential pet emergencies that come with winter. With that being said, here are the top five most common winter pet dangers in Minnesota!

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1. Antifreeze Toxicity

Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is extremely toxic to pets and can be life-threatening. Since antifreeze smells and tastes sweet due to the alcohol content, curious pets often lap up spills or chew on the bottles. Incidents tend to happen in the garage or shed, or even while winterizing cabins. Leaky car radiators can also be the culprit. Antifreeze is especially dangerous because even small amounts can cause severe and permanent kidney damage. Seek immediate veterinary care if you suspect your pet was exposed to antifreeze. The sooner your pet is seen, the better their chances of recovery.

Prevention Tips:
  • Promptly clean up any spills.
  • Securely store antifreeze containers.
  • Keep pets out of the garage (or other storage areas).

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2. Snow, Ice, and Salt

Snowballs are fun to throw, but not fun between your toes. Snow and ice build-up between a pet’s toes can be uncomfortable and cause frostbite. While icy driveways, steps, and sidewalks can cause slip and fall injuries, salt melts can also be dangerous for pets. They can irritate paw pads – especially if there are small abrasions from walking on ice. Another concern is a salt toxicity, which can happen if your pet eats the salt off the ground or licks it up while cleaning their own paws. Symptoms of a salt toxicity include upset stomach and vomiting, ulcerations in the mouth, and neurologic conditions such as uncoordination, tremors, and seizures (depending on the salt used).

Prevention Tips:
  • Invest in pet-friendly melts.
  • Whenever your pet returns inside, wipe their paws with a clean, warm cloth or towel to remove any salt.
  • Protect your pet’s paws with booties, as well as these other tips.

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3. Cats in Cars

Don’t forget about our frigid feline friends! Whether it’s a nap in the sunlight or a cuddle on your lap, cats love to seek out warm places. This is especially true when the temperature drops outside. Stray and outdoor cats seek out any warmth they can find, and under the hood of a parked car often seems like a go-to place for them. However; if a car is started while a cat is still inside, it can cause serious injury or death.

Prevention Tip:
  • Whether your car is in your garage, driveway, or the grocery store parking lot – bang on the hood or honk your horn before turning on the ignition.

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4. Hypothermia and Frostbite

Extremely cold temperatures aren’t uncommon in Minnesota, and hypothermia is a real concern for pets. As a rule of thumb: if you’re cold, they’re cold. When pets get cold, the body shifts blood to the core and vital organs, and away from extremities (paws, ear tips, tails). This can result in frostbite in those areas, especially if you have a senior dog, small dog, or a dog with shorter fur.

Prevention Tips:
  • Invest in a jacket for your pet (If you have a bigger dog or a Northern breed such as huskies or malamutes, you can skip this! They are well-equipped for the cold and may find a jacket to be uncomfortable or bothersome).
  • Minimize time outside on extremely cold days.

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5. Pet Obesity

Days are shorter, air is colder, and treats are delicious! Unless your pet is a grizzly bear preparing for hibernation, this is a tough combination. Pets don’t get nearly as much exercise during the winter months and this can lead to gaining unwanted winter weight. Obesity is a growing problem (pun intended) and contributes to many other diseases.

Prevention Tips:
  • Since pets are less active during the winter, they require fewer calories so you may need to adjust meal portions if your friend is looking “fluffier” than usual.
  • Create an indoor exercise program for your pet.
  • Talk to your family veterinarian about a weight loss plan for your pet.

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Bonus Tip:

Don’t let the weather keep your pet from enjoying the outdoors (it’s good for you too)! On those warmer winter days, you and your pet can still enjoy a walk, skijoring, or other winter activities. If you prefer to get outside during the evenings, remember that roads are slippery and it’s darker sooner so avoid walking near the road where there aren’t sidewalks. You can also use flashing lights, as well as fluorescent collars and jackets to help others see you!

We hope you and your pets stay safe (and warm!) this winter! If your pet experiences an emergency this winter and your family veterinarian is unavailable, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota is open 24/7!

Find more winter weather pet safety tips here!

Written by Geoff Gieni, DVM.

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