Winter Safety for Pet Owners

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With temperatures continuing to drop and more snow predicted in this winter’s forecast , most families have the necessary preparation down including stocking the house with water, bread and milk and filling the family vehicle with gas. As routine as these steps have been this winter, some families may be forgetting about winter safety for their four-legged family members. Familiarity with a few simple ways to prevent cold weather health hazards can allow owner and pet to enjoy the winter months.

Freezing temperatures are the first condition pet owners need to be aware of during this time of year. Just like humans, dogs and cats are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. While puppies, senior dogs and animals with health concerns are most vulnerable, pets of all ages, breeds and health can be affected by cold conditions. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers(APDT), a national organization of individual trainers founded in 1993, states that hypothermia can result from extended exposure to cold and is a life-threatening condition. Owners should watch their pet for signs of shivering, shallow breathing, weak pulse or lethargy. Frostbie, which most commonly occurs on ears, tails, scrotum or feet, includes signs of discolored skin, swelling or blisters. The APDT suggests that owners check their pet often for signs of frostbite which may be hidden beneath fur.

Cold weather chemicals that are routinely used by humans during hazardous weather, including ice melters and antifreeze can be extremely dangerous to the health of pets. According to Dr. Louise Murray, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Director of Medicine, “During the winter, products used as deicers on sidewalks and other areas can lead to trouble for our animal companions, potentially causing problems ranging from sore feet to internal toxicity. Pet parents should take precautions to minimize their furry friends’ exposure to such agents.”

Although ice melters are very helpful for humans to decrease the amount of snow and ice in a specific area, ice melters that are salt based can be an irritant to paws and stomach areas of shorter dogs and cats. In addition to washing any possibly affected area, owners can also purchase pet safe ice melters which are salt-free and non-toxic; booties can also help minimize contact with salt. Antifreeze from vehicles can be deadly for pets that ingest even as little as one to two teaspoons of the chemical. Animal owners are encouraged to clean up any spills immediately around any area in which the pets use.

Much like humans, dogs with short coats or low body fat will benefit from wearing water-resistant coats and sweaters while outside. Pets should be kept on a leash during cold weather to ensure their safety, as the ASPCA states that more dogs are lost during winter than any other season. While outside, owners should limit the amount of time their pets are outside and restrain them from eating snow, which may cause an upset stomach or unveil hidden items not safe for them to play with.

The APDT also encourages owner of outside dogs to use special considerations during winter months and bring dogs inside if possible. The organization reminds owners that outdoor dogs will burn more calories, up to 30 percent, and need extra food, encouraging that they be feed additional rations during cold temperature.

Most animal-friendly organizations agree that if the weather is too cold for the owner, it is probably too cold for their pet. The ASPCA reminds individuals that animal companions should remain indoors as much as possible during the winter months and never be left alone in vehicles when the mercury drops.

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