Winter can be an amusing season for both you and your pet. For some dogs, there is nothing more exciting than playing in the snow. However, as fun as the snow may be, winter conditions can be potentially dangerous to your pet. If you keep these simple guidelines in mind, you and your pet can enjoy the winter season safely.
The most obvious concern that comes with the winter season is the extreme cold. While we are all bundled up in our snow clothes, it can be easy to forget that our four-legged friends may not be warm enough with just their fur to protect them. A couple other concerns that are associated with the cold weather are frostbite and hypothermia. Both can result from being out in the cold for too long; however, their causes are not exactly the same. Frostbite occurs from exposure to extreme cold, or direct contact with an extremely cold surface such as glass or metal. Most often, the pads of the paws, the tips of the ears and external genitalia are affected. Treatment for frostbite includes warm compresses, bandages, antibiotics and pain medications. Do not rub a frostbitten body part to warm it up, as it is a painful wound. Watch for pale or blue tinted skin, skin that is cold to the touch, or skin that appears to be numb.
Hypothermia is also caused by exposure to extreme cold, and is defined as the body temperature dropping below normal (100F to 102.5F). If your pet’s temperature is a couple degrees below normal, you will need to increase their temperature with warm blankets and/or hot water bottles. However, if your pet’s temperature drops more than a couple degrees below normal, it may require veterinary attention. When body temperatures reach below 82F, the animal can no longer elevate its temperature on its own, and veterinary care is critical. Signs of hypothermia include shivering (however, shivering will cease when the body temperature is below 87F), slow and shallow breathing, slowed heart rate and body tension. Prevention of frostbite and hypothermia includes shorter walks when it is extremely cold outside, booties to prevent frostbite, jackets or sweaters for smaller dogs, warm places to sleep, and never leaving your pet outside for extended periods of time without adequate shelter.
Another concern about the winter season is one that is not quite as obvious. The antifreeze used in your car is extremely poisonous to your pet. It contains ethylene glycol, which can cause metabolic acidosis and renal failure. A pet can easily mistake spilled antifreeze for something to drink off the floor. If you catch your pet doing this, it needs immediate veterinary attention. However, you may not notice your pet ingesting antifreeze, so signs to watch for are not eating, vomiting, lethargy, seizures, and your pet walking like it is intoxicated. If you notice these symptoms, it is imperative that you get your pet to the veterinarian right away as the chances of recovery become fewer the longer the ethylene glycol is in the animal’s system. Treatment includes giving the antidote, flushing the stomach, administering activated charcoal, and then maintenance treatment such as IV fluids and/or peritoneal dialysis. The prognosis depends on how quickly ethylene glycol poisoning is diagnosed, but it can vary from excellent to grave. It is important to keep antifreeze put away where it cannot spill and where your pet cannot get to it.
Avoiding hypothermia, frostbite and antifreeze poisoning can be easy, and can allow for a safe and fun winter. Don’t forget to contact your veterinarian if you have any questions. Stay warm and enjoy the snow!
Dr. Jenny Siess
Dr. Jenny Siess was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to Flagstaff in 2003. She enjoys areas of veterinary medicine such a surgery, exotic animal practice, and wellness/disease prevention. She currently resides in Flagstaff with her fiancé, four dogs, six cats and ball python.