Pets & Winter Care: Protect Your Pet
As the temperatures drop this holiday season, give your pet a little extra warmth with these winter pet tips.
Fend Off Frostbite
Prolonged exposure to the bitter wind and snow can cause frostbite, which occurs when part of the body freezes. Sensitive areas unprotected by fur are the most vulnerable to frostbite in pets. Depending on the temperature outside, frostbite can develop in as little as 30 minutes or less, especially if your pet gets wet.
“We’ve had dogs that have come in with frostbite on their ears, specifically on their nose, on the pads of their feet, those are the areas, and the tip of the tail,” says Lauren Fox, executive director of All Breed Rescue and Training, a shelter in chilly Colorado Springs. “Those tend to be the areas that get frostbite.”
Outdoor cats have an even greater risk of feline frostbite occurring. Remember that walking through snow soaks fur and paws, decreasing body temperature. Keep both cats and dogs indoors, and be prepared to also set up a cat door or heated shelter.
Adjust Outdoors Time
It’s a common myth that all animals are naturally more resistant to cold because of their fur coats, says Sarah Reyes of the Everett Animal Shelter in Washington. Think about it—Chihuahuas and Persians weren’t built for subzero temperatures, although your Maine Coon or Husky mix might be. Tolerance of winter temperatures and their conditions varies by your pet’s breed, age, existing conditions, and what climate they’re acclimated to. “Shortening walks can be really important, adding clothing; a jacket and booties can really helpful for those short-cut dogs,” advises Nicole Nolte, Operations Director of the Missoula Humane Society in Montana. We chatted with pet parent Kimberly about her pup Chloe’s winter paw infection and how booties became essential.
“Chloe was a puppy mill breeder for 8 years before we adopted her,” begins Kimberly. “She came with all of the traumas of a puppy mill rescue – trauma, fear, etc. Luckily we got a great trainer to help us house train her fast, teach her to relax and trust us, and helped us show her what it meant to be a dog – she really didn’t know she was a dog when we got her! Fortunately she loves food so much she learned quickly and even after half a year she started to blossom into a really happy, bouncy, sweet dog that she naturally is!”
When Kimberly went on vacation and Chloe stayed with a sitter during a cold winter week in January, Chloe got into a little bit of trouble. “When we came to pick her up after coming home she looked a little stressed and was walking gingerly; she even lifted her paw as if saying ‘ouch paw!’” Chloe’s little paws were red raw and swollen, so Kimberly brought her to the vet. “The verdict was clearly a paw infection. Chloe has arthritis and licks her paw – apparently the licking of her paws along with the winter salt on the sidewalks rubbed and irritated her paw skin until it was infected while we were gone!”
Paws take a long time to heal, especially as winter stretches on. Kimberly bought Chloe booties to wear outside as well as little socks to protect against the booties. She also had the cone of shame to avoid further licking. It didn’t stop there: “We had to use anti-inflammatory meds for a week to curb the pain, then had a medicated soak we had to administer twice daily before applying an antibiotic powder in and between her paw pads. We came in every week to the vet to check; it took about 4 to six weeks for her to heal enough from the paw infection. It felt like forever!” After $545 in vet bills ($143 reimbursed; 60% reimbursement rate and $750 deductible), Chloe has fully recovered and is back to begging for cheese and cuddles.
Provide a Safe Shelter During Extended Playtime Outside
For those pets who enjoy the great outdoors, set up a warm, well-insulated area for breaks during playtime that includes a roof to keep snow or rain from falling onto bedding. Staying warm burns more calories so your pooch may be thirsty too, so provide plenty of fresh water back inside so it doesn’t freeze. Yep, even if your dog loves the outdoors, they must come inside to prevent major illnesses like hypothermia and frostbite. “If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia,” urges the American Veterinary Medical Association to cold weather pet parents.
Enjoy the wintry wonderland with your pets—just from the warmth and safety of your home. Even dogs that are well-suited to cold climates should still have limited outdoors time to prevent getting sick or injured. Outdoor pets should be brought inside, but if it’s unavoidable, provide your pet with a warm shelter, fresh water and cozy bedding.
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