Keeping Pets Safe During Winter Weather by Iris Katz

Though this winter started out on the mild side, we are now dealing with colder temperatures and anticipating frozen precipitation both of which can adversely affect our pets.

Colder temperatures bring misery to short and thin-coated dogs as well as elderly pets with arthritis or joint problems. These fragile animals benefit from wearing sweaters or coats and pet owners are advised to supervise their animals and limit their spent time outdoors. These dogs also need to have their crates and beds off of cold floor surfaces and away from drafty areas. Colder temperatures also force animals to burn more calories therefore meal portions may need to be increased. Veterinarians can advise owners regarding appropriate food intake levels.

Lower temperatures often encourage cats and other small animals to seek a warm haven in parked vehicles. Before starting the engine, a driver should bang the sides of the vehicle, make loud noises or beep the horn to force any creatures out from under the hood or near the wheels.

Despite having furry coats, animals can suffer from frostbite. The vulnerable areas of their bodies are their paws, nose and ears. The color of frostbitten skin may change to reddish, white or gray and the skin’s surface may become scaly or sloughing. To treat frostbite, owners are advised to immediately remove all snow and ice from the pet’s coat and paws and then bring the pet into a warm room. The frostbitten areas must be thawed slowly by applying warm moist towels that are changed frequently. This procedure should be continued until the affected areas become flushed and then a veterinarian must be immediately contacted for the pet to be examined.

Special precautions must be followed for dogs that live outdoors. According to the Carroll County, MD Code of Ordinances, Chapter 90.04: “Between December 1 and March15 and whenever the real or effective temperature is 35 degrees F or lower, the following shall be provided:

  • Dog shelter shall have a weatherproof roof, the entryway shall be protected by a self-closing door, an offset outer door, or a flexible flap made of windproof material. The floor shall be solid and raised off the ground at least two inches. No interior surfaces shall be metal. The dog shelter shall be facing south or east, away from the prevailing winds;
  • Bedding, such as wood shavings, straw or other nonabsorbent material shall be provided in sufficient quantity for insulation against cold and damp. Bedding shall be kept dry.
  • If there is no artificial heat source, structures shall be small enough to allow the dog to warm the interior of the structure and maintain his or her body heat but large enough to permit ease of entry and normal postural adjustments; and
  • Fresh water without ice shall be made available to the dog a minimum of twice daily. The receptacle shall be made unable to be tipped over.”

Responsible pet owners frequently check the condition of all outdoor pets. Considerate owners bring outdoor pets indoors when the temperatures plummet. 

Frozen precipitation presents many hazards for animals. Pets moving through deep snow or on icy surfaces may develop torn muscles, bone fractures and head injuries. Drifting snow may reach or surpass the height of fencing so dogs could easily escape from their property. To prevent this catastrophe from occurring, owners are advised to dig a trench within the perimeter of fenced areas where drifting has occurred, recheck the trenches periodically and re-dig if additional drifting occurs. For dog owners whose property is enclosed by an electric fencing system, the battery in the dog’s collar may need to be replaced. Water-loving dogs need to be walked on leash to prevent them from jumping into frozen or partially frozen ponds and lakes. A playful plunge could sadly result to the loss of a beloved pet.

Ice and snow melting products often contain chemicals that can irritate paw pads and may also be ingested when licked. Booties for dogs could be worn (if tolerated) and offer protection or owners should immediately rinse all paws on dogs and cats to remove any residue when they re-enter the house.  Owners are advised to stock up on and use pet safe ice melting products.  Frozen precipitation may discourage some dogs from relieving themselves outdoors. Frequent shoveling and applying pet safe ice melt on patios and sidewalks may serve as a solution.

The sweet scent of anti-freeze is attractive to dogs and if even a small amount is licked can cause kidney failure, damage to the central nervous system and death. Any anti-freeze leaks must be cleaned up immediately if dogs are to be allowed into garages or carports. A vet must be contacted promptly if a dog is suspected of ingesting anti-freeze.

By being aware of winter’s hazards and taking proactive measures we may prevent our pets from harm during this challenging season.