Chicago, IL—The start of dangerously cold, adverse weather conditions combined with a winter storm warning for the Chicago metropolitan area and northern Illinois requires immediate action from pet owners. The Chicago Veterinary Medical Association provides the following guidelines for the public to keep their pets safe from the weather hazards and prevent serious health threats.
Cold weather can be as dangerous for pets, as it is for humans. Pets may have a more difficult time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from extreme temperatures if they have a condition such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances.
Since cold weather may worsen some medical conditions such as arthritis, it’s crucial for pets to receive a regular preventative care examination from a veterinarian to detect any potential diseases and other health problems.
In times of subzero temperatures, even outdoor pets should be brought inside until the severe cold has passed. If they are having difficulty walking or breathing, they should be brought inside and warmed. Injuries from exposure to cold are easily prevented.
Dogs can, and do, get frostbite and hypothermia. Short haired dogs can benefit from a doggie coat when walking outdoors. All dogs should become acclimated to the colder weather. A dog should be properly conditioned before running with its owner. An owner should know and avoid areas with potential water hazards and keep their dog on a leash to avoid falling through broken ice.
In general, if it’s too cold for a person to be outside comfortably, then the same holds true for a dog. Most dogs can tolerate short periods of exposure to cold, but must be monitored closely. Dogs should have access at all times to shelter and non-frozen fresh water.
Dogs are often outdoors for walks and exercise with their owners. While longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds bred for colder climates are more tolerant of cold weather, a dog should never be left outside below-freezing weather for long periods of time.
Ice, particularly thin ice that cracks under foot, can lead to cut paws. Snow packed between the pads of the feet can lead to frost bite. Many good booties are available that may help dogs to tolerate the conditions and prevent injury and severe cold.
Salt or ice melting products can be harmful to the feet of dogs. Pet owners should thoroughly rinse the paws after returning from a walk outside. Spilled antifreeze should be cleaned immediately; even in very small quantities this can be highly toxic to both dogs and cats because of the ethylene glycol. If untreated, ethylene glycol poisoning is always fatal.
A proper, balanced diet is important to ensure that a pet is in good health. Owners should speak with their veterinarian about a pet’s nutritional needs during cold weather, because extra weight gained during the winter months has associated long term health risks. While outdoor pets will require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to stay warm, a pet’s body condition must be monitored.
According to Chicago Veterinary Medical Association President Dr. Rosemarie Niznik: “With the cold weather upon us in the Chicagoland area, there are winter pet health concerns that every pet owner should know. Cold weather can cause the following: hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration due to frozen water, and acute poisoning from ingestion of antifreeze and ice melting products. The cold temperature can also exacerbate existing health problems. If your pet exhibits signs of extreme lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty getting up and walking, limping, and/or open sores on the skin or feet, please take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible as these signs may be indicative of a more severe medical condition. Frostbite often affects the extremities such as the ears, tail, paws, and nose. Signs include discolored white, red or black skin, and blistering or ulcers of the affected area. The skin and surrounding areas may be leather like and cold to the touch, painful, reddened, thickened, and swollen. Be aware that some skin signs may take a few days to develop. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, bring them inside immediately. Wrap your pet in towels that have been warmed in a dryer or, for small areas, you can use lukewarm water at a temperature of 102-108 degrees. DO NOT use a heating pad or hair dryer to warm the pet as higher heat from these sources can cause additional tissue damage. Do not rub or massage the affected areas as this can result in more damage and possibly additional pain for your pet. Please bring your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Use pet safe ice melting products around your home. Wipe your pet’s paws with a warm cloth after daily walks to remove snow, ice, and road salt. Consider winter paw protection with commercial lotions or booties. Bring your pets indoors during the day and especially the evenings for the winter months. Take high energy dogs on frequent but short walks. Provide indoor pets with warm bedding and access to fresh water daily. Do not give any medications or use any products without speaking to your family veterinarian first. By being diligent and prepared pet owner you can ensure that your pet will have a fun and safe winter season.”
Pet owners should not only know their family veterinarian’s business hours and days of operation, but also be familiar with what local emergency facilities are nearby or recommended from a veterinarian in the event of illnesses and injuries.
Taking these preventative action steps now will help to keep pets safe and healthy, and allow for owners and their pets and to have an enjoyable winter.