Winter Safety Tips

Winter is well underway, and managing your pet’s health during Colorado’s frosty weather is much more important than you might initially think. Colder winter months and the busy holiday season can pose special health risks to pets. Help your special furry friends weather the winter by considering a few simple tips.

Antifreeze and Ice Melt

Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) has a sweet taste that many animals find irresistible. They may seek it out to drink it, despite its toxicity. Unfortunately, it only takes a small amount to cause permanent and fatal damage to the kidneys. Never drain antifreeze into the street, be careful to wipe up any spills, and store antifreeze in tightly closed containers far out of the reach of pets (and children). While “pet-safe” antifreeze exists, we strongly advise to keep all chemicals away from pets, or places they could access. 

Ice melt is most often made of salt, which is harmful for dogs and cats. Your pet may accidentally ingest ice melt by licking their paws after walking through an area with ice melt, or eating snow with ice melt on it. However, a handful of pets actually like the taste of ice melt and will eat it right out of the packaging if it is in reach. 

After eating ice melt, most animals encounter an upset stomach, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. But depending on the amount ingested and your pet’s size, symptoms can worsen. Too much ice melt can cause tremors and seizures due to a high sodium level, and they may develop ulcers on the mouth if the product contains calcium chloride. We advise all pet owners to be safe with pet-friendly ice melts as well, as their ingredients can still lead to an upset stomach for your furry friend. 

To avoid the risk of ingesting ice melt, take a few steps for your dog or cat:

  • Don’t let your pet eat any of the salt or snow outside that may have been treated with ice melt, especially slushy snow.
  • Wipe their paws after returning from the outdoors with a damp cloth or baby wipes.
  • Keep an eye out for irritation, cracks, or bleeding on your pet’s paw pads from the ice melts. Consider paw wax or dog booties to keep their feet safe from ice melt and other harsh chemicals while outside. 
  • Keep all ice melt packaging, and other chemicals, out of pet’s reach. 

Wind chill

No matter the temperature outside, wind chill can be devastating. Combined with dampness, rain, sleet, or heavy, wet snow, wind chill can be fatal. It is best not to leave any dog outdoors unsupervised when the temperature drops. Cold and windy snowstorms can come up quickly and unexpectedly. Short haired, very young, and senior dogs are at greatest risk for problems related to exposure to cold.

We recommend an insulated doghouse to protect your dog from the elements, if they must live outside. It should be elevated a few inches above the ground to prevent moisture from accumulating inside. Carpeting, a blanket, or a padded bed should cover the floor of the doghouse. It must be big enough for your dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably, but small enough to contain body heat. The doorway of the doghouse should face away from winds, and a burlap or canvas hung over the opening can act as a “door”.

Outdoor dogs need more energy in the winter just to keep warm. Talk to your veterinarian about a specific dietary recommendation (and portion size) in order to ensure that your pet is meeting their energy requirements. Adequate water is just as important to an outdoor dog’s health as food. Check the water supply frequently to make sure it does not freeze. Also, opt for plastic bowls rather than metal. In low temperatures, a warm, wet dog tongue can stick and freeze to metal dishes.

Pet paws, like human hands and faces, are susceptible to frostbite. Remove caked ice from your pet’s feet as soon as possible. Frostbite can also affect their tail or ears. Frostbitten skin may turn color, becoming reddish, gray, or white. It may become scaly and begin peeling. If you suspect frostbite, thaw out the affected areas slowly using warm, moist towels that are changed frequently. Bring your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the extent of the damage.

Winter Wear

To avoid frostbite, look into dog booties for your pet, and keep their overall body temperature warmer with a pet coat. This is especially beneficial for very small dogs and senior pets, who have a hard time keeping in their body heat. However, the need for a winter jacket will depend on your pet.

A brief time out in the cold, such as to go to the bathroom, is not a problem for many pets. In general, observe their body language to determine whether or not your pet is cold; look for shivering, refusal to walk, or holding up their paws above the ground. Some dogs may need their coat only for a bit until they run around and their internal body temperature adjusts to the climate.

Certain breeds also benefit from coats more than others. Cold weather is especially difficult for small breed dogs, those with thin coats, or pets with thin body frames. Dogs with short legs are much closer to the ground than others, and will benefit from coats to protect their bellies. But larger shedding dogs typically don’t need coats, as their bodies are more adapted to handle frigid temperatures. Make sure to consider breed, size, fur length, and your pet’s health to determine whether or not they need a coat. Your veterinarian can also give a recommendation for your individual pup or kitty.

If you do look for a coat or sweater for your four-legged friend, avoid items with buttons, buckles, or other pieces that could be harmful if ingested. Purchase the correct size for your pet to avoid the fabric rubbing too much on their skin, or making room for tripping and falling. 

Dog boots also provide protection from the snow and ice, as well as ice melt (mentioned above). Some dogs don’t know what to make of these extra accessories at first, but many appreciate the support after discovering the extra traction that booties provide. 

Common sense can guide most of the decisions you make as you keep pets out of harm’s way during the upcoming winter months. Consider the consequences as our furry friends face the frigid cold.

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