Tips on keeping your pets safe during the winter, especially in extreme cold
HARRISBURG, Pa —
Pennsylvania officials have provided tips for pet owners to ensure the safety of their pets during the dangerous cold snap that is coming in the next few days.
“While it’s easy to think that dogs are immune to cold because of their fur, the fact is that more dogs perish in the winter than at any other time of the year,” said Joel Hersh, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team (PASART.)
Some are better able to handle the cold than others, but a taking a few simple precautions can ensure an enjoyable winter experience for both pets and their people.
- Beware of cold temperatures and know your pets' limits. Many pets can be safe in outside temperatures with proper shelter, but puppies, smaller dogs, older dogs and cats should not be left outdoors when the temperature falls below 40 degrees. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says that each pet's cold tolerance varies, based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level and health.
- Provide a protective shelter. If your dog or cat stays outside much of the time in the winter, his shelter needs to be raised a couple of inches off the frozen ground or concrete. The inside needs to have a blanket, cedar shavings or straw which should be changed frequently to keep him warm and dry. Add a flap to the door, and face the shelter away from the weather. The size of the shelter should be large enough so your pet can sit and stand, but small enough so his body heat will be retained in the house. Use a plastic water bowl to ensure your pet’s tongue does not get stuck to cold metal, and change the water often to keep it from freezing.
- Keep older, arthritic pets inside. These animals should not be left outside under any circumstances. Escort the older dog outside for toileting and use a leash if the yard has ice or snow. Older dogs can easily fall and seriously injure themselves.
- Watch for signs of frostbite and injury. Dogs’ ears, paws and tails are especially susceptible to frostbite. If you suspect frostbite, contact your veterinarian. If your dog plays on ice or hard, frozen dirt, his paws are susceptible to cuts as his aws slide across these rough surfaces. Always wipe your dog’s feet after a walk in the snow to remove ice balls and salt deposits from the road. Salt irritates a dog’s paws and can be toxic if ingested. Use only pet-safe ice melt.
- Keep an eye out for hypothermia. If you notice shivering, lethargy, low heart rate and unresponsiveness, bring your pet into a warm area, place a light blanket over him, and call your veterinarian. The AVMA says that no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather. If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold, consider putting a sweater or coat on them. You can also use booties to protect their feet, but make sure that they fit properly.
- Eliminate the possibility of poisoning. Unfortunately, dogs like the sweet taste of antifreeze, which can cause sickness or even death if ingested. Make certain that all antifreeze containers are well out of reach of dogs and thoroughly clean any spills immediately.
- Keep your dog on a leash. Dogs rely heavily on a strong sense of smell to figure out where they are and can easily get lost during winter storms. Snow covering the ground will make their surroundings less familiar. Keeping your dog on a leash at all times – especially during winter storms – can help stop your dog from becoming lost. Also talk to your veterinarian about micro-chipping your dog, just in case.
- Don’t leave your dog inside of a parked car. Most people know this rule for the summer. A parked car can quickly amplify the effects of extreme weather. During the winter it can act as an icebox and trap cold air inside.
- Make some noise. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood and honk the horn before starting the engine to scare off any cats who may be keeping warm by your engine.