Winter Pet Safety
January 9, 2009
Winter storms don't just affect you -- they also affect your pets. And your pets depend on you for their safety. There are many ways to be "Pet Prepared," but you must think ahead and start planning NOW. Contact your veterinarian or local humane society for information on preparing your pets for an emergency. Also, consult our Pet Disaster Kit and Emergency Kit lists, so that you can be prepared for any weather emergency. During a winter storm, if you see an injured or stranded animal that needs help, contact your local animal control officer or animal shelter.
Some pets are better suited than others for living outdoors. There is a common misconception that dogs will be "fine" if left outside. This is not true! All pets need adequate shelter from the elements and insulation against cold weather. Pets should not be left outside for long periods in freezing weather - like humans, they can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite.
Certain breeds, such as Huskies and Samoyeds are better suited to very cold weather, but the majority of dogs and need your help and intervention. Indoor accommodations are best during extreme temperature drops, but if that is not possible, set up a suitable house in an area protected from wind, rain, and snow. Insulation, such as straw or blankets will help keep in body heat. If your animal is prone to chewing, do not use blankets or material that can be ingested. Cedar shavings can be irritating to the skin, so use with caution depending on your pet's hair coat.
Caution - do not use a heat lamp, space heater, or other device not approved for use with animals. This is a a burn hazard for your pet and a fire hazard. Pet supply vendors sell heated mats for pets to sleep on or to be placed under a dog house, but read and follow directions carefully before use.
Fresh water is a must at all times! Pets are not able to get enough water from licking ice or eating snow. A heated dish is a wonderful tool for cold climates. The water stays cold, but doesn't freeze. Caution needed for animals that may chew.
Dogs walking in snowy areas may get large ice balls between their pads, causing the dog to limp. Be sure to keep ice clear from this area. For dogs that have a lot of hair between the pads, keeping it clipped shorter will help with ice ball formation. Dog boots offer protection to those dogs that will tolerate wearing them.
SALT AND CHEMICAL DE-ICERS:
Pets who walk on sidewalks that have been "de-iced" are prone to dry, chapped, and potentially painful paws. This will encourage the pet to lick their paws, and ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation and upset. Wash off your pet's feet after an outing with a warm wet cloth or footbath.
FROZEN LAKES AND PONDS:
Animals don't realize what "thin ice" is. Once they fall in, it is very difficult for them to climb out and hypothermia is a very real and life-threatening danger. "Ice skating" dogs are prone to injuries such as cruciate tears if allowed to "skate" with their humans. This is also true of icy walks.
Thirsty and curious pets will lap up antifreeze. Just a few licks can be fatal. Lock up antifreeze containers and clean up spills immediately. For more information, please see previous article about antifreeze toxicity.
Cats will seek warmth where they can get it, and that may be the warm engine of a car just parked. Before staring your car, knock on the hood or honk the horn to scare off any cats - and prevent tragedy.
Arthritis is worse during cold and damp weather. Take special care to handle your pet gently, watch out for icy walks, provide soft (and possibly heated) bedding, and administer any necessary medications.
IF YOUR PET SLEEPS IN THE GARAGE:
As mentioned above, be on the alert for any antifreeze leakage or antifreeze containers left out where they could spill or be chewed on. Also, do NOT start the car in a closed garage - for your safety and your pet's safety - carbon monoxide poisoning is a silent killer.
TOP TEN COLD WEATHER TIPS
1. Keep your cat inside. Outdoors, felines can freeze, become lost or be stolen, injured or killed. Cats who are allowed to stray are exposed to infectious diseases, including rabies, from other cats, dogs and wildlife.
2. During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.
3. Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm-dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
4. Thoroughly wipe off your dog's legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. He can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws, and his paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.
5. Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in the colder months, be sure to completely dry him before taking him out for a walk. Own a short-haired breed? Consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
6. Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
7. Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train him inside. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.
8. Does your dog spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities? Increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him-and his fur-in tip-top shape.
9. Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center more information.
10. Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.