Keep Your Pet Healthy in 2020 Keep Your Pet Healthy in 2020

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Cold Weather Can Kill Your Pet — Follow These Tips

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

cold weather

Story at-a-glance -

  • Cold weather has arrived, which means it’s time to make sure your four-legged family members stay safe, warm and comfy over the next few months
  • Frigid temps are as hard on pets as they are on people; always keep your pet indoors with you during the winter months
  • Additional tips to help keep dogs and cats safe and healthy this winter include taking them for a veterinary wellness exam and ensuring they get regular exercise

Winter is in full swing, and unfortunately, cold weather can be just as hard on our pets as it is on us — especially dogs and cats left outdoors for any length of time (which I never, ever recommend). Pets left outdoors in cold weather can fall victim to a long list of injuries and illnesses, including hypothermia and frostbite.

The following is a list of things you can do to help keep the furry members of your family warm, safe, and healthy over the next few months.

Tips to Keep Pets Safe and Warm All Winter

Keep them indoors — I recommend keeping cats inside at all times (unless you have a secure outdoor cat enclosure for use during nice weather, or you take him on walks using a harness), but especially during winter. Accompany your dog outdoors for potty walks or to get some exercise. When you get cold enough to go back inside, chances are your dog is also cold.

If your dog is a large breed, chances are he’ll be able to tolerate cold temps and snow much better than a smaller dog. If your pet has a condition like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or an endocrine disorder, it can compromise his ability to regulate his own body heat.

Pets with a chronic disease and very young and older animals are more vulnerable to the cold than healthy youngsters and adults. Also never leave your pet unattended in a car in cold weather. Hypothermia can be just as deadly as heatstroke.

Let their coats grow — Don’t shave or clip your pet’s coat short during the winter months. A longer coat will keep her warmer. And make sure long-haired pets are brushed and groomed regularly, since matted fur can interfere with their ability to regulate their body temperature.

Make sure they get regular exercise — It’s really important to maintain your pet’s physical condition year-round. If you allow your dog to become a couch potato all winter, you increase his risk of injury when he starts exercising again in the spring. Especially if you live in a location that gets really cold and wet during the winter months, it can be challenging to ensure your dog stays physically active. Some ideas to consider:

  • A hydrotherapy or warm water dog pool
  • An indoor dog park (this is also a great idea for those of you who live in climates where the summers are too hot for strenuous outdoor exercise)
  • Indoor agility or tracking training, or nose work
  • Cross-country skiing

Kitties can actually be easier to keep exercised during bad weather: 10 ways to help your cat exercise.

Provide sweaters for shorthaired, hairless, older, and frail pets — Some pets won’t wear clothing no matter how chilly they are. But if your pet tolerates it well, a sweater can help keep your dog or cat warm, especially when you take her outdoors. But keep in mind that pets lose most of their body heat through the pads of their feet, their ears and their respiratory tract, so there’s a limit to how much warmth a sweater or jacket will provide.

Signs your pet is uncomfortably cold include whining, shivering, appearing anxious, slowing down or stopping, and looking for a warm place to burrow.

Take extra care with senior, arthritic or feeble pets — Cold weather can be especially hard on senior pets and those with degenerative joint disease or another chronic, debilitating condition.

Talk with your integrative veterinarian about physical therapy and other safe, natural methods for improving your pet’s comfort and mobility during cold weather. And make sure your pet has a thick, soft, non-toxic (organic) bed in a warm room for naps and at bedtime.

Take them for a wellness exam — I recommend twice-yearly exams for all pets, and especially seniors, so making one of those visits in the fall or early winter is a good way to ensure your dog or cat is healthy before the cold weather arrives. Your integrative veterinarian will measure muscle mass, joint range of motion, check vital organ function and make a wellness plan for the upcoming cold months.

Make sure ID tags are current and keep pets leashed outdoors — More dogs go missing in the winter months than any other time of year. It’s very easy for your pet to lose his scent and get lost when snow or ice is on the ground, and especially during snowstorms.

Snow accumulation can make it impossible for him to know if he’s in his front yard or standing out on a street or highway. Light-colored dogs with snow on their fur can quickly blend into the background, making them nearly impossible to spot.

Wipe them down after a trip outdoors — Pets who go outside during the winter months can pick up rock salt, ice, antifreeze, and other toxic chemicals on their footpads.

To keep your pets’ paws from becoming chapped and raw, and to prevent ingestion of toxins, thoroughly wipe off their feet, legs, and underside after they’ve been outside in the snow and ice. Also regularly check paws for any signs of injury or bleeding from walking on frozen or snow-packed surfaces.

Be careful near water — If you live near a pond, lake or other inland water source that tends to freeze over during cold weather, take care when letting your pet off the leash. Animals can easily fall through the ice, and it’s very difficult for them to escape on their own, or for humans to rescue them.

Stay alert for outdoor cats — Hopefully you keep your cat inside, but your neighbors may not, or there could be strays or feral cats in the area. Kitties left out in cold temps will sometimes crawl up under the hoods of cars or into the wheel wells. Starting or moving the vehicle can hurt or even kill a cat taking shelter inside a car.

During winter months, it’s a good idea to bang loudly on your car hood before starting the engine as a warning to a cat that might be in or around your vehicle.

Keep them safe from potentially dangerous heat sources — If you use a fireplace or space heater, expect your pet to lie near it for warmth. Keep a close watch to ensure no part of her body comes in contact with flames, heating coils or other hot surfaces. She can easily burn herself or knock a heating unit over and put everyone in the house in danger.

Have your furnace inspected and change your air filter — It’s a good idea to have your heating unit checked for carbon monoxide leaks before winter sets in. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, but it can cause serious health problems in both people and pets. Since your dog or cat very likely spends much more time at home than you do during the winter months, she’s more vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Changing your whole house air filter twice a year is a great idea. Most people are shocked to learn how much dust, dirt, allergens, pollen and mold can accumulate in filters over the summer.

Dust mites thrive during the winter months, making your home a ripe environment for year-round misery, in terms of itchy paws and bellies. Providing pets with filtered air is one way to help reduce the allergen load in your house during winter.

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