Winter still has southwest British Columbia in its icy grip, with snow, freezing rain, and frigid air. Spring and summer will be here in no time, but until then, you must take precautions to keep your pet safe and warm. Your furry friend could be affected by hypothermia, frostbite, paw pad injuries, and toxicity if you don’t take precautions for their protection. To help out, our Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital team shares their top five tips for winter safety. 

#1: Limit your pet’s time outside in the cold

Ensure your pet stays indoors with you on cold days, and monitor their time outdoors to ensure they don’t become too cold. Your dog may become distracted chasing squirrels or barking at the cat next door, and fail to realize they have become chilled, so bring them in after a short time. If your dog goes in and out through their own pet door, consider locking it on colder days so they cannot wander out and forget to come back in. Elderly pets, in particular, have trouble maintaining their body temperature, and require close supervision. 

#2: Never leave your pet unattended in the cold

As beloved family members, pets belong inside, snuggled on the couch next to you—if not in your bed. They do not belong outside in the cold, and dogs and cats should never be kept as “outdoor pets,” who can develop hypothermia, and die, when temperatures dip below freezing. Likewise, never leave your pet in the car while you run errands. Your metal vehicle can quickly become an icebox on cold days, and your pet’s body temperature can drop to an unsafe level.

#3: Dress your pet for the weather

Your pet’s permanent fur coat does not mean they can withstand frigid temperatures, wind, and snow. Before heading out for a game of fetch or your daily walk, dress your pet in an insulated coat or sweater to maintain their core body temperature. Some pets don’t mind dressing up, but others may resist, or develop “coat paralysis.” Get your pet used to their winter gear by rewarding them generously with treats and praise when they wear it without complaining. 

Don’t forget your pet’s feet—although they are covered by the thickest skin on their body, they are also sensitive to the cold, and can develop painful abrasions from walking on ice and snow. Add booties to your pet’s winter wardrobe, or slather on a thick layer of protective wax, such as Musher’s Secret, to protect their feet.

#4: Recognize hypothermia and frostbite signs in your pet

Your pet can develop life-threatening hypothermia if their body temperature drops below their normal range of 38.3 to 39.2 degrees Celsius (i.e., 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Monitor them closely for hypothermia signs, including:

  • Shivering 
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Low heart rate
  • Dilated pupils

Frostbite can develop when your pet’s tissues have prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, and the blood vessels near the skin constrict. This protective mechanism directs blood to their internal organs for warmth and protection, but leaves their extremities susceptible to damage from the cold. Pets most commonly develop frostbite on their nose, paws, ears, and tail. Monitor your pet for the following frostbite signs:

  • Skin on the ears, tail, or nose that first appears pale, and later becomes red and swollen
  • Skin that appears brittle or shriveled
  • Skin that feels cold to the touch
  • Painful extremities
  • Ice crystals in or around the nose

If you believe your pet may be affected by hypothermia or frostbite, wrap them in blankets, and bring them to the nearest veterinary hospital for immediate care. 

#5: Prevent your pet’s exposure to winter toxins

Winter also brings several toxic dangers, including antifreeze and ice melt products. Many antifreeze products contain ethylene glycol, which can cause deadly kidney failure. Pets readily lap up any spilled or leaked sweet liquid, and as little as a tablespoon can be deadly to dogs, or as little as a teaspoon for cats. Pets may act drunk for several hours after ingestion, and then seem to return to normal. Unfortunately, severe acute kidney failure develops silently during this time, and by the time additional signs, such as inappetance, lethargy, vomiting, and seizures, develop 12 to 24 hours later, treatment may be ineffective. If you believe your pet may have ingested ethylene glycol, or they are not acting like themselves, seek treatment immediately, as treatment is effective only when administered a few hours after ingestion.

Ice melt products typically contain concentrated salt compounds, which can also be toxic to pets. Although pets rarely consume enough to experience severe toxicity, unless they eat directly from the bag or sidewalk, pets may groom salt from their feet and fur after walking outside. The effects of small amounts are typically limited to gastrointestinal irritation, which may cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and inappetance. However, larger salt ingestions can lead to incoordination, excessive thirst, tremors, seizure, coma, and death. To prevent salt ingestion, store all ice melt products out of your pet’s reach, and wipe salt from their feet and fur after walking outside.

Our Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital wants to help ensure your pet’s safety through all seasons. Whether winter or summer, spring or fall, contact us for all your pet’s medical and preventive care needs.