We've just come out of a cold snap in Colorado with temperatures in the teens and single digits and wind chill below zero. Other areas of the country are still in the middle of a deep freeze. You may have noticed your four legged family members being just as hesitant as you to roam outside for long in these temps. It is a misnomer that an animal should be able to withstand really cold temperatures just because it has fur without conditioning or special gear. I've covered this topic a bit already in the post titled "Winder Adventures", but let's consider a few other dangers that pop up in the cold weather months.
Small Vs. Big, Short Vs. Long
Although some pets are conditioned to cold weather, veterinary experts agree that you should bring outdoor pets indoors if the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Puppies, kittens, and short haired pets should come inside anytime the temperature goes below 40 degrees. Long haired pets do have a bit of an advantage, but proper grooming is essential to help them maintain a layer of warming air within their coat. Pets who are heavily matted cannot keep themselves as warm.
If your pet must stay outdoors, be sure to provide shelter for your pet. A good "house" will have three enclosed sides, will be elevated off the ground, and will contain generous amounts of bedding such as straw or hay. In cold weather, bigger is not always better. A house just big enough for your pet will warm up faster and retain heat better than something that is too big. Your pet will need access to fresh water that isn't frozen. Use heated water bowls and replenish them frequently.
Antifreeze is a common and deadly pet poisoning during colder months. If you suspect your pet has consumed any antifreeze at all, you must contact your veterinarian immediately! Antifreeze has a sweet taste to pets, so they will readily lap up any spilled material. If you spill antifreeze, dilute the area well with water and sweep excess water into a rocky or sandy area. Cover area with soil to keep pets from licking at the rocks. Read my post on a pet friendly Antifreeze alternative.
Cars and Pets
Cats love to warm up underneath car hoods. If your car is kept outdoors, or if cats have access to your garage, be sure to pound on the hood of the car prior to turning the ignition. Many cats are killed or injured grievously by fan belts and moving engine parts. Also, pets should not be left alone in vehicles due to the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning or hypothermia.
Our pets suffer from frostbite and hypothermia just like we do. Consider keeping dogs on a leash when they go outside. Many curious dogs off leash will explore "frozen" retention ponds, lakes or streams and fall through the ice into frigid water. I cover signs and treatment of hypothermia in the "Winter Adventures" post.
Heat Source Cautions
You may encourage your dog or cat to warm up by a wood-burning stove, fireplace, or space heater. Be very careful to monitor your animal around any of these heat sources. They can cause severe burns. If your animal is mobile, let him move away from the heat when he's had enough. For non-mobile pets keep the animal a safe distance away and turn its body every 5 minutes to allow the area near the heat source to cool off.
Older pets may suffer more from arthritis during these months. You might consider providing warm, raised bedding to decrease the exposure to cold floors and drafts that can intensify the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Hydrotherapy can be a great exercise for pets with arthritis to gently loosen up stiff joints without weight bearing pressure on painful limbs. Marty Pease leads the CRCG clinical rehabilitation staff. She is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 21 years of experience and was certified by the University of Tennessee in canine rehabilitation in 2003. Marty would love to have you visit the Canine Rehabilitation & Condition Group (CRCG) to take your dog for a swim in the Open Dog Pool. You can also talk to your family veterinarian for other arthritis treatments for dogs and cats.
The moral of the story...snuggle a little closer with your cold nosed dog or cat to keep warm this winter.