Dogs and cats can get frostbite too

Zoe Greszler • Jan 29, 2019 at 7:00 PM

Most know that they can easily contract frostbitem or in some extreme cases, hypothermia, during such dangerously extreme conditions as are forecast for this week. But did you know the same can happen to your pets?

This weather presents an especially dangerous set of circumstances for them as well. Dr. Ronald Hendrikson with Norwalk Veterinary Medical Center offered the following tips to keep your furry friends safe and warm.


Are there any areas of special concern when the temperatures dip so low?

Just like people, pet’s cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather and adjust accordingly. You should not take your dog on a walk in very cold weather to protect you both from extreme weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant but are still at\ risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground.

• Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets. If you need help determining your pet’s temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.

• I do not recommend housing any pet outside in this weather. If you cannot bring them in your house then at the minimum move them to a secure, windproof building like a garage with heat, and provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds. Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.

• When your dog comes in from outside wipe their feet, legs and belly which can pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. If necessary, wash your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after (s)he licks them off of his/her feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.


Are pets able to get frostbite/hypothermia just like people?

Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather. Keep them inside. Cats and dogs should be kept inside during very cold weather. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it’s untrue.

• Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. Sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of iceball accumulation by clipping the hair between your dog’s toes.

If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog’s feet; if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.

• Recognize problems! If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.


What care/safety tips are recommended to keep pets safe and warm during this arctic blast?

• Be prepared: Arctic weather also brings the risks of power outages. Prepare a disaster/emergency kit and include your four-legged family member in your plans. Have enough food, water and medicine (including any prescription medications) on hand to get them through at least 5 days.

• Make some noise: A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it’s deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage cats to abandon their roost under the hood.

• Avoid ice: Stay away from frozen ponds, lakes and other water. You don’t know if the ice will support your dog’s weight, and if your dog breaks through the ice it could be deadly. And if this happens and you instinctively try to save your dog, both of your lives could be in jeopardy.

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