Cold Weather Animal Safety
As we once again begin to feel the chill in the air, it is time to consider the best ways to keep our furry friends safe during the colder months. Dogs and cats may have been blessed with natural coats to help them stay warm, but even they can experience hypothermia and frostbite. So to help your canine and feline friends thrive during the autumn and winter months, you should follow some precautions.
The first way to help your dog or cat survive the cold is to provide warm shelter. Allowing your pets free access to the house, to a dog house or to a shed will let them escape the elements as needed. For some short-coated dogs, the shelter should be heated, or better yet, your dog should be allowed to stay in the house. Even longer-coated dogs may need to spend an occasional evening indoors, during those really cold, sub-zero nights.
Provide Food and Water
Animals should always have access to food and water, but it is especially important during the colder months. For their bodies to work properly, dogs and cats need the optimal amounts of food and water available to them, amounts that will sustain weight over the winter months.
Years ago, veterinarians suggested that outdoor dogs may fare better over the fall and winter months if their food was increased in the months leading to the worst of the winter cold. However, recent research has suggested otherwise: the fat built up through increased exposure to food may help the dog repel the cold, but the yo-yo canine diet can also lead to bad knees and aching joints.
So instead of increasing your dog’s weight as the winter approaches, it is now considered more humane (and safer to your dog’s health) to only feed your dog the number of calories necessary to maintain his weight all year. This means that your pup will have to eat a little bit more in the winter (because exposure to cold naturally burns more calories than during warmer months), so feeding some additional food to sustain the dog’s weight is advised.
Watch for Signs of Frostbite and Hypothermia
Just like humans, animals are also susceptible to frostbite. Extended exposure to cold can lead to frostbite on extremities, like the paws, the ears, and the tail. If your dog is left outside for long periods of time without access to shelter, check him for signs of frostbite. The signs are the same in animals as in humans, but it may be more difficult to determine on your canine companion than on a human. For that reason, the following can help you identify frostbite and hypothermia in an animal:
• The skin beneath the fur is white and extremely cold to the touch immediately upon being frostbitten.
• The skin turns very red and hot a few hours after frostbite
• Skin dries up and looks scaly, and eventually, the skin sloughs off in the days after being frostbitten.
• Shivering, muscle stiffness and lack of coordination can indicate hypothermia.
Should your dog or cat experience any of these symptoms, take her to the vet immediately. Frostbite can call for amputation in severe cases, and hypothermia can make your dog extremely ill and even cause comas or death in extreme cases.
Winter safety for animals is as simple as keeping your dog indoors in extreme weather, offering the proper amount of food and water, and monitoring for signs of illness. Keeping your pet safe during the colder months is possible with the proper precautions, so keep Fido from harm through the tips above.