While you’re adding extra layers of clothing to stay warm, don’t forget that your pets need extra protection from these cold temperatures, too. City of Iowa City Animal Center Supervisor Liz Ford reminds pet owners to follow these tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association to ensure pets’ safety and comfort during cold weather:
Stay inside. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant to cold weather because of their fur, but that’s not true. Pets, too, are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside during cold weather. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds that are bred for colder climates, such as huskies, are more tolerant of cold weather, but no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather.
While it’s not recommended, if you’re unable to keep your dog inside, provide a warm, solid shelter against the wind. Make sure the floor of the shelter is off the ground to minimize heat loss into the ground, and use bedding that is thick, dry, and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. Position the door to the shelter away from prevailing winds. Avoid using space heaters and heat lamps because of the risk of burns or fire, and use caution when using heated pet mats, as they are capable of causing burns, as well. Make sure there is unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl.
Know their limits: Tolerance for cold weather varies from pet to pet, based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Adjust their outdoor time accordingly.
Take shorter walks: Shorten your dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect you and your pet from weather-associated health risks.
Add layers: If your dog has a short coat or is bothered by the cold, consider a sweater or dog coat. Make sure it’s dry before you put it on, as wet sweaters or coats will make your dog even colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog’s feet. If you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.
Check paws: Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or to ice accumulation between the toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of iceball accumulation by clipping the hair between your dog’s toes.
Wipe down: During walks, your pet may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down or wash your pet’s feet, legs, and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after licking these substances off their feet or fur. Use pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.
Don’t leave pets in the car: Pets that are young, old, ill, or thin are particularly susceptible to cold environments and should never be left in cold cars -- and this includes warm cars that will get cold quickly when the heater is turned off. Take your pet along only when it’s necessary, and never leave him or her unattended in the vehicle.
Avoid ice: When walking your dog, stay away from frozen ponds, lakes, rivers, and other water sources, as the ice may not be able to support your dog’s weight. If your dog breaks through the ice, it could be deadly.
Watch for signs: If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, seems weak, slows down or stops moving, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get back inside quickly because your pet is 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.
Make some noise: Outdoor and feral cats will seek a warm place in the winter -- and sometimes, that’s the engine of your car. Before starting your vehicle, check underneath, bang on the hood, and honk the horn to encourage felines to get out.
Collar and chip: Many pets become lost in winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that normally help them find their way home. Make sure your pet has a well-fitting collar with up-to-date identification and contact information. A microchip is a more permanent means of identification, but it’s critical that you keep the registration up to date.
Be prepared: If severe winter weather, blizzards, high winds, and/or power outages are expected, prepare a disaster/emergency kit for you and your pet. Have enough food, water and medicine (prescription medications as well as heartworm and flea/tick preventatives) on hand to get through at least five days.
For more information on getting your pet microchipped or other questions, contact Liz Ford at 319-356-5296 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.