(from the AVMA, Purina Pet Care Company, the ASPCA and the HSUS)
Brrrr…it’s cold outside!
The following guidelines will help you protect your companion animals when temperatures drop.
Snow and Ice
Packed snow and ice should be removed from your pet's paws and wiped from your pet's legs, stomach and ears immediately. Prolonged exposure of skin to snow or ice caught in a pet's coat can cause frostbite. Salt and de-icer agents spread on sidewalks and roads can be irritating and potentially cause sores to your pet's feet. Using pet-friendly ice melts can help minimize this hazard. After walks, rinse and thoroughly dry your pet's feet or use waterproof pet boots to limit contact.
Frostbitten skin is red or gray and may slough. If your pet is experiencing frostbite, do not rub the affected area, rather, apply warm (not hot), moist towels to thaw out frostbitten areas slowly until the skin appears flushed. Contact your veterinarian immediately for appropriate medical treatment of your pet's frostbite wounds.
Plants and other items associated with the winter season can be toxic to your pets. The following are just a few holiday hazards to avoid. Please consult your veterinarian or animal poison control for a more complete list. As with any toxin exposure, the earlier you seek treatment, the better for your pet!
- Holiday Plants- Poinsettia, balsam/pine/cedar/fir, lilies and holly.
- Holiday Decorations- snow sprays/snow flock, glass ornaments, tinsel, bubbling lights, snow globes.
- Holiday Treats- alcoholic beverages, packaged baked goods (containing xylitol), chocolate.
- Chemicals- antifreeze, rat/mouse bait, aftershave, perfume, Christmas tree preservatives.
- Antifreeze deserves special mention because even a very small amount can be rapidly fatal to pets.
Although there are many obvious outdoor hazards at this time of the year, such as snow plows, snow blowers, and icy walkways, there is one that is frequently overlooked: pools. Pools, ponds and other open bodies of water certainly pose an obvious drowning and hypothermia concern if your pet falls in, but pools can be even more hazardous. Pets playing in yards with pools (in particular in-ground pools) may not be aware of the pool's edge when covered by snow or that a pool's cover is not a solid surface. If a pet treads onto the cover of a pool, it is possible for the pet to become entrapped in the pool cover and suffocate. If your pet has access to pools, ponds or other outdoor hazards in the winter months, always keep a watchful eye on them to ensure their safety, and when/where possible, restrict your pet's access via a fence or other barrier.
- When traveling with your pet, call ahead to make sure your pet will be welcome at any hotels or homes where you intend to stay.
- Travel from state to state usually requires a health certificate and proof of Rabies vaccination for each pet, which has been signed by a veterinarian.
- Holiday treats, such as rich, fatty food scraps, meat (cooked and uncooked), bones, alcoholic beverages, and chocolate, can be harmful or toxic to your pet. Do not allow friends and relatives to give your pet special treats. It could ruin everyone's holiday.
- Always be sure your pet is wearing a current identification tag on their collar (a city/county dog license or Rabies tag is no substitution for a proper ID tag with your current address and phone number).
- Always take a copy of your pet's medical records with you when you travel, should your pet require emergency treatment while you're away from home.
- Remember that sometimes the best solution for everyone is to make arrangements for a sitter to watch your pet in your home or to bring your pet to a boarding facility.
Special Concerns for Outdoor Pets
- It is best to keep pets indoors during the winter months, but if this is not possible, it is important to remember no matter what the temperature, wind chill can threaten a pet's life. In severely cold or inclement weather, no pet should be kept outside.
- Well-nourished dogs are better prepared to withstand the rigors of winter, particularly if housed outdoors. Outdoor dogs normally need more food to generate enough energy to cope with the cold. This is easily accomplished by feeding a high-quality, nutritionally complete and balanced dog food.
- Offer your dog fresh water several times during the day or use an electrically-heated water bowl. Water sources may need to be heated to permit constant access to unfrozen, drinkable water. Even when using a heated water dish, your pet's water still should be monitored regularly.
- Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
- Outdoor pets must be provided with adequate and appropriate shelter. Shelters should be insulated or heated and watertight. Because they use their own body heat to keep warm, the shelter should be large enough to allow your dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to preserve their body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic to keep out winter winds, sleet, and snow.
Special Concerns for Indoor Pets
- Even indoor dogs require special care in the winter months. As with any animal, it is again important to remember no matter what the temperature, wind chill can threaten a pet's life. In severely cold or inclement weather, no pet should be kept outside for extended periods. Regardless of the season, very young and geriatric dogs should never be left outside without supervision.
- Dogs housed indoors may require less food in order to maintain an ideal body condition. These pets tend to be less active and expend less energy. Reducing your pet's food intake during more sedentary months will help them maintain a good body condition and avoid putting on "winter weight".
- Indoor pets should have sleeping quarters in a draft-free, warm area with their bed or mattress elevated slightly off the floor.
- Short-haired dogs, geriatric dogs, and dogs with health problems may need the protective warmth of a dog sweater or jacket during winter months.
- You may find your indoor dog is experiencing dry skin and shedding. This is usually the result of low humidity in your home. Frequent brushing removes dead fur and skin and helps stimulate oil glands. When you bathe your pet in the colder months, be sure to completely dry them before going out for a walk.
- Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. Shoveling snow away from a "potty area" in your yard and diligent consistency will help your puppy through this phase of their training.
Special Concerns for Cats
- Keep your cat inside. Outdoors, cats can freeze, become lost or be stolen, injured or killed. Cats who are allowed to stray are exposed to infectious diseases and injury from other cats, dogs and wildlife.
- Roaming cats, as well as house pets and wildlife, may climb onto vehicle engines for warmth during cold weather. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. Be sure to check under the hood before starting your vehicle by banging loudly on the car hood or honking the horn to startle any animals seeking shelter inside.