Short days and long, cold nights make winter the season of snuggling with your four-legged companions. But in some cases, cold weather can be very dangerous for your pets.
Pets who are not generally in good health shouldn't be exposed to winter conditions for an extended length of time. Health conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and hormonal imbalances can compromise your pet’s ability to regulate his or her body heat. Even a healthy pet can experience painful or even deadly cold weather conditions, including hypothermia and frostbite.
What can pet owners do to keep their pets safe from the cold? Here’s what you need to know.
Hypothermia occurs when your pet’s body temperature falls below normal. Pets who spend a sustained amount of time outdoors, especially those in poor health, are most commonly affected.
Signs of hypothermia include: Shivering, cold extremities, lethargy, weakness and unresponsiveness.
Hypothermia can be very dangerous for pets, just like humans. Keep them safe by keeping them warm:
Save walks for mid-day when temperatures are warmer
A sweater or jacket may be necessary for smaller or thin-coated breeds
Move pet beds away from drafts, cold tile or uncarpeted floor
If you notice these symptoms, wrap your pet in blankets to slowly heat them up, possibly with a hot water bottle or electric blanket (always wrap your heat source in fabric to prevent burning the skin). Never plunge your pet into hot water when they’re experiencing hypothermia. In the most severe cases, your veterinarian can monitor her heart rate and blood pressure and give warm fluids through an IV.
Remember, if it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your pet!
Frozen lakes and ponds
If you live near a pond or lake, be very cautious about letting your pets have open access as they can easily fall though the ice and potentially drown.
It is very difficult for pets to escape from broken ice on their own, and if unsupervised they will quickly fall victim to hypothermia and frostbite.
Frostbite occurs when your pet’s body gets cold and blood from the extremities is pulled to the center of the body in an attempt to retain warmth. When this occurs, the temperature in those extremities start to form crystals that damage the tissue. Frostbite may not be immediately noticeable, and tissue damage typically appears several days later. It’s most common on the tips of ears, toes, noses and tails.
Take preventive measures and check your pet’s extremities daily. Soaking the extremities in warm water or applying a warm compress can help prevent frostbite from occurring. If you suspect frostbite, don’t try to remove the ice crystals—take your pet to your veterinarian immediately.
Bonus: Preventing cabin fever
Staying active during colder months isn’t easy. But less exercise outdoors can mean more pent-up energy for our pets. When it’s too cold to go out, here are some tips to keep pets happy, healthy and out of mischief:
Indoor fetch — Move your fetch game to the living room for fun indoor exercise.
Hide and seek —Hide out and reward your pet with treats for finding you.
Crumpled papers — Swatting at crumpled paper balls is a surprisingly good workout.
Tablet cat games — Download a cat-friendly tablet game and watch the fun begin.
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