person putting a shoe on an animal

6 Winter Safety Tips to Protect Your Pets

As we near December 21st, the official beginning of winter, now is the time to prepare for the colder temperatures to protect our pets and livestock.

1. Protect your animals from exposure to freezing temperatures

Generally, small pets, thin-haired pets, older arthritic pets, and sick pets need to be indoors when the temperatures drop. Larger, thick coat dogs may be able to stay out in the cold longer but even they need to come inside. If they must be outside then they should have a fully enclosed space to go into. They should have warm bedding off of the cold ground and it should protect them from the wind and moisture.

Animals exposed to cold, dry air, rain, or snow can suffer from chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin. Without proper protection, animals can suffer hypothermia, especially when temperatures drop below 20 degrees F.  Here are some signs your pet needs to be brought inside from the cold:

  • Shivering
  • Holding up a paw
  • Anxiety
  • Searching for warmth
  • Whining
  • Weakness
  • Slowing down
  • Lack of mental alertness

2. Watch for Hypothermia.

Stay watchful of your pets when taking them outside for exercise. Signs of hypothermia:

  • Pale skin
  • Lethargy
  • Strong Shivering
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low heart rate

When temperatures are below 45 degrees F be alert to signs of hypothermia. Use winter gear if you can when taking your pets outside, especially dogs with thin coats, older dogs, and smaller dogs. Bring a towel on long walks to clean off stinging, irritated paws. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt, and chemicals. Check for cracks in paw pads or redness between toes. And, never shave your dog down to the skin in winter.  A simple trim is ok.

3. Protect Paw Pads.

Pets can get severe paw irritation from extremely cold temperatures and chemicals in ice-melting agents. To protect their paws you can massage petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads. Booties are even better coverage and also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation.

4. Keep Your Pets Safe from Antifreeze and ice-melting agents.

Antifreeze

Pets can become poisoned from antifreeze. Unfortunately, both dogs and cats are attracted to antifreeze and will often lick it up. If they lick up anti-freeze it is an immediate medical emergency. Antifreeze can cause kidney failure and death in pets even if as little as 1 teaspoon is consumed. If you suspect your pet has ingested anti-freeze bring them to us immediately. The sooner you get your pet to us, the better their chances are for survival. Note: antifreeze that contains propylene glycol is safer than antifreeze with ethylene glycol. In any case, thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle so there is no chance of poisoning. Be sure to check your car radiator regularly and repair leaks right away. Don’t let your pet roam where they may have access to antifreeze.

Anti-freeze poisoning stages:

Stage 1 (occurs 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion):  The animal will have difficulty walking or may stagger (similar to alcohol poisoning), euphoria or delirium, vomiting, seizures, and excessive thirst and urination.

Stage 2 (occurs within 12-24 hours after ingestion):  This stage can be misleading. Symptoms at this point may seem to resolve, but severe damage to the kidneys is progressing. In any case, you do not want to wait until this stage to bring your pet to a vet. And realize that even if symptoms subside, they will get worse and your pet will decline to stage 3. 

Stage 3 (occurs in cats within 12 to 24 hours after ingestion, and in dogs, within 36 to 72 hours):  Severe acute kidney failure is occurring. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, lethargy, weakness, drooling, foul breath (which is from kidney failure), vomiting, diarrhea, a rapid heart rate, depression, seizures, fainting, and coma.

Ice-melting agents

If your pet eats snow or drinks a small amount of melted snow containing ice-melting agents it can irritate their mouths. If they swallow enough it can be very poisonous to them. The chemicals in ice-melting agents cause an electrolyte imbalance and can result in seizures, increased heart rate, and death. If a pet develops drooling, vomiting, seizures, or other symptoms, get them to us right away. If you need to use an ice-melting product you can find pet-friendly ice-melters on-line.

5. Protect Feral and Outdoor Cats.

If you have feral or outdoor cats in your area they need protection from the freezing weather. It is vital they have access to water that won’t freeze up. There are simple feral shelters that can be built to protect them from freezing weather. And there are ways to stop their water from freezing.  Cats may also crawl under the hood of a car or sleep on the tires to get warm. Before you start your car, bang on the hood to chase them out. You can also take a quick peek under the hood just to be safe.

6. Protect Your Livestock from Freezing.

Just as your pets can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite so can your livestock. Of course, you cannot bring them into your home but there are steps you can take to protect them.  

  1. Adequate shelter is your number 1 priority. If you do not have an indoor shelter you can use windbreaks such as a row of trees or a fence. 
  2. Provide extra feed. Animals need more food to keep their bodies warm during cold temperatures.
  3. Protect them from slipping on ice. Cover areas such as concrete floors and outdoor pens with wood chips, gravel, or sand. This will help prevent them from slipping and getting injured.
  4. Watch for and prevent frostbite. Especially newborns and young animals need to be kept warm and dry as they more easily can get frostbite. Here are some links for more information: Preventing and Treating Hypothermia and Frostbite and Winter Weather Livestock Tips  
  5. Be ready for extremely cold weather. If you are expecting extremely cold weather have a plan for how you are going to get to and feed your livestock. You can also provide straw, water, and silage in various places in the event the animals are unable to go inside for shelter. 

Summary

During low temperatures small, older, or sick pets should be kept indoors. If your pets must go outside, protect their paws from the cold and wipe their coats and paws with a dry cloth when they come inside.  If you cannot bring your animals inside, provide them with an enclosed space to keep warm. Watch for poison dangers from anti-freeze and ice-melting products. If you have livestock, you need to be protect them from severe cold, especially new born and young animals. Ideally you have an enclosed space to keep your livestock warm. If not, they must be provided with a windbreak of some sort and monitored to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. If you have feral cats in your area that do not have any shelter, it doesn’t take much to provide them with some shelter to protect them from the cold. 

Happy Holidays!

Stacey Funderburk D.V.M.
Nokomis Veterinary Service
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