Keep your furry friends safe during freezing cold conditions

Posted at 11:34 AM, Jan 03, 2014
and last updated 2017-12-05 07:38:30-05

Most people are aware of the potential safety hazards that come along with bitter cold temperatures and to make sure children are bundled up and seniors are checked on, but what about our four-legged furry friends?

Local veterinarians encourage residents to keep pets in mind when it comes to weather protection.

We might opt for a warm hat and mittens, but pets need special attention to make sure they don't get sick when the thermometer plummets.

Dr. Angie Callahan is an emergency vet at MedVet on Red Bank Road. She has seen many cats and dogs suffer from hypothermia, she said.

"Initially shivering is healthy for them, but if they get too cold then they can get extremely hypothermic and become depressed and neurologic from that," Callahan said.

"One of the first signs is generally depression and not really being alert."

So what about when your animal needs to go outside?

Pet owners should look out for salt crystals used on roads and sidewalks, which can cause painful chemical burns if the crystals get caught in pets' paws.

"The first thing I would be concerned about is if your pet is licking at their feet," Callahan said. "You can look for redness and swelling if they're just constantly licking, then that would be a clue that maybe you should have your vet take a look at it."

When your pets return from the outdoors, it's a good idea to check their feet, and make sure their paws are clean.

With sub-zero wind chills, Callahan suggests shortening the time your pets spend outside their warm homes. Save long walks for when it warms up. Even dog breeds used to cold climates, like Huskies, should take the same precautions other pets take.

Callahan's recommendations for pet safety in extreme cold matches what the Humane Society of the United States has to say.

Keep pets indoors and warm
Don't leave dogs or cats outdoors when the temperature drops. Most dogs, and all cats, are safer indoors, except when taken out for exercise. No matter what the temperature, wind chill can threaten a pet's life. Regardless of the season, shorthaired, very young, or old dogs and all cats should never be left outside without supervision. Short-coated dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater during walks.

Take precautions if your dog spends a lot of time outside
A dog or cat is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. If for some reason your dog is outdoors much of the day, he or she must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

Help neighborhood outdoor cats
If there are outdoor cats, either owned pets or community cats (ferals, who are scared of people, and strays, who are lost or abandoned pets) in your area, remember that they need protection from the elements as well as food and water. It's easy to give them a hand.

Give your pets plenty of water
Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

Be careful with cats, wildlife, and cars
Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

Protect paws from salt
The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth.

Avoid antifreeze poisoning
Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic to pets, wildlife, and family. Read more about pets and antifreeze »

The best tip of all: Keep your pets with you
Probably the best prescription for winter's woes is to keep your dog or cat inside with you and your family. The happiest dogs are those who are taken out frequently for walks and exercise, but kept inside the rest of the time.

In short, don't forget to make your furry friends a top priority during the chilly weather.