Many breeds love to go outside in the winter but smaller dogs and those with little or no hair should have sweaters or coats to protect them from the weather. It’s important to pay close attention to your pet when outside in winter weather. If your pet is shivering, it’s probably time to go inside.
“Bitter cold can damage the lining of a dog’s respiratory tract, a problem for pets with heart or lung disease,” says Dr. Julia Georgesen of Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. “Prolonged exposure can lead to hypothermia and frostbite, which usually occurs at the tips of ears and tails and is characterized by red or gray-tinged skin,” she says. If you suspect frostbite, never rub the affected areas and gently warm them up by immersing them in water – warm not hot – then seek medical attention.
Special attention should always be paid to your pet’s paws. When returning from walks, wipe snow and ice from your dog’s belly, legs, and paws with a moist rag. Wiping down your dog will prevent harmful salt ingestion. When dog’s lick their paws and ingest salt, it can cause inflammation of the mouth and GI tract. Salt’s also irritating to the paw pads and skin and petroleum jelly or wax balms can be applied to paw pads for protection. Another alternative is to use salt-free ice melt, including one brand called Safe Paw. Boots are also an option, although some dogs may not like them and refuse to wear them. Remember to clip long fur between toes and pads to prevent ice balls from forming while walking.
One of the deadliest winter dangers is accidental ingestion by pets of spilled antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol. Pets love the chemical because of its sweet taste but it can lead to kidney failure. Consumption of even small amounts can be fatal. If your pet has ingested antifreeze, it may act intoxicated, stumble around and vomit.
When starting a car parked outside beware of cats that may have found a warm spot under the hood of the car. Bang on the hood of the car or honk the horn just to be safe.
And remember, cold and damp weather can enhance the pain of arthritis in middle age and older pets. Watch your pet for signs of stiffness and difficulty standing up and navigating stairs. Ask your veterinarian about treatment options.