Winter Pet Care Tips

Changing seasons bring different adventures and challenges for any pet with access to the outdoors. While winter weather can be a welcome sight for some dogs and other pets, reducing the risk of overheating and introducing all the entertainment that comes with fresh snow, winter also brings certain hazards for pets that owners should be aware of.

With a little extra care and attention to the elements, you can help your pet enjoy the outdoors while protecting them from extreme cold and other health hazards they may come across during the winter season. Here’s a quick guide to protecting your pets and preventing dangerous situations in the coming months.

Do Dogs Get Cold in the Winter?

Even though dogs have hair or fur all over their bodies, they’re susceptible to cold the same way as humans. Each dog’s tolerance to the cold is determined first and foremost by their breed: a Siberian husky, for example, is much better equipped to stay warm in the cold than, say, a chihuahua.

No matter what the temperature, always watch your dog for shivering or other signs of being cold. Even in warmer temps, a number of factors—such as wind and rain—can drop your dog’s body temperature and create uncomfortable or even dangerous situations.

Can Dogs Get Sick From Cold Weather?

Can dogs handle cold weather? The answer is yes, sometimes—but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for this cold exposure. Just like humans, prolonged exposure to the cold can weaken a dog’s immune system and make them sick. If you notice common signs of being cold, such as shivering or curling up to insulate themselves from the dog, it’s possible your dog is chilled enough that it raises the risk of an illness.

Severe exposure to cold can cause more serious illnesses resulting from that exposure. Pneumonia, hypothermia, and lethargy are all health complications that may develop after prolonged cold exposure that lowers your dog’s body temperature.

Can Dogs Be Outside in the Cold for Long Periods of Time?

In most cases, dogs can stay warm and comfortable when temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Below this temperature, they may need extra clothing and/or access to warm indoor temps. Many breeds struggle to stay warm when exposed to temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit for any prolonged period of time, although huskies and other breeds may thrive in cooler conditions.

Veterinary experts recommend against taking your dog out in the extreme cold, other than for brief potty breaks, even if your dog’s breed is built for cold weather. This is because your dog may not be acclimated to those low temps, and may not weather the cold as well as a dog accustomed to extreme temperatures.

When in doubt, it’s always smart to err on the side of caution and minimize your dog’s exposure to the cold. You can also talk to your vet for breed-specific guidance on how to manage your dog’s exposure to cold weather.

When Do I Need to Bring Pets Inside?

By the time your dog starts to show signs of being cold, they’re already facing possible health risks. Ideally, pet owners should take a preventative approach and bring pets inside before signs and symptoms of cold exposure develop.

For example, you should consider bringing dogs inside when temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or when rain, snow, high winds, or other elements create a dangerous environment. While many dogs love running and playing in the snow, dogs and snow can have an adversarial relationship since snow can cool their body faster—especially as it contacts their body, melts, and accelerates body heat loss.

If you notice classic signs of cold in your dogs, such as shivering, constant shifting or lifting of the paws, or a hunched or curled posture, bring them inside immediately and give them access to heat and insulating layers to warm their body quickly.

How to Care for a Dogs’ Paws in the Winter?

Winter can pose a safety risk to your dogs’ paws in several different ways. Not only does contact with the cold ground increase heat transfer and the risk of frostbite for your dogs’ feet, but icy surfaces can increase the risk of a cut. In addition, the salt and de-icing agents applied to sidewalks and streets can cause serious burns on paws.

Depending on the hazards your dog encounters, you can protect their paws with the following:

  • Paw balm. A layer of balm applied to your dog’s paw will protect it from salt and even provide a little insulation. Reapply balm once you return home to promote healing from any salt exposure your dog suffered on the walk.
  • Booties. Booties offer more rugged protection and an improved grip on slick surfaces. While some dogs may be resistant to wearing booties, they offer great protection from all elements and may be particularly beneficial for older dogs with weakened muscles and joints, and an increased risk of falling.
  • Shorter walks. In very cold weather, shorter walks will minimize the risk of injury to your dog’s paws.

If you’re worried your pet is suffering from health issues resulting from exposure to the cold or other winter elements, contact your local vet’s office today. Veterinary services can provide guidance and address any concerns you may have, including the need for emergency pet surgery if necessary.

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