Keeping Your Four-legged Family Members Safe in Cold Weather
Our furry, doggo friends are an integral part of the family. And as the leader of the pack, Pet Parents must ensure that their dog is prepared to endure the rigours of a long, Canadian winter. Your dog is counting on you to keep them safe in cold weather.
A solid coat of fur is the first line of defence against cold weather, but this alone is not enough to protect dogs from the elements. They – much like people – have varying degrees of tolerance when it comes to temperature extremes. Even the hardiest breeds are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite.
HOW COLD IS TOO COLD FOR MY DOG?
Know your dog’s limitations
Just like people, dogs have different levels of cold tolerance. How cold is too cold for your dog is knowledge gained over time. Cold tolerance varies from pet to pet based on their activity level, coat, body fat stores and overall health.
Things to consider:
- Arthritic and elderly dogs may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling.
- Dogs with longer hair tend to be more tolerant of cold temperatures, but are still at risk over time. Conversely, short-haired pets have less protection and may be more susceptible to hyperthermia.
- Short-legged dogs tend to feel chills earlier because their torsos are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground.
- Dogs that suffer from underlying medical conditions – such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease or hormonal imbalances – may have more difficulty regulating body temperature. This can lead to problems at temperature extremes.
Given these factors, be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather and adjust accordingly. A good rule of thumb is if it’s too cold for you, it’s likely too cold for your dog.
Still unsure about how cold is too cold?
HOW CAN I KEEP MY DOG SAFE IN COLD WEATHER?
1. Protect Your Dog from Common Winter Chemicals
Antifreeze is chemical commonly used in winter is a lethal poison for dogs. And cats, rabbits, squirrels and any number of other animals, for that matter. If you’re replacing coolant or antifreeze in your garage or driveway, make sure to thoroughly clean up any spills without delay. Consult your vet immediately if your dog ingests even a small amount – a seemingly insignificant amount can be fatal. Not sure if your dog has ingested antifreeze?
The following severe symptoms require immediate medical care:
- Unsteady or uncoordinated movement
- Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Rapid heartbeat and weakness
- Seizures and convulsions
- Coma, unresponsiveness
Road salt and de-icers are frequently used on sidewalks to keep them clear of ice. These, too, are generally chemical-based and can easily burn a dog’s pads. During walks, your dog’s paws, legs and belly may attract de-icers, antifreeze or other chemicals that could be toxic. Inspect your dog’s paws after a walk outside and wipe them with a warm, damp towel, if necessary. Shorter dogs may also need their bellies wiped down.
2. Feeding an Appetite in Cold Weather
Exercise during the cold, winter months is often limited. Snowstorms, freezing temperatures and Pet Parent motivation all play a role in staying inside. Hibernation-mode is a thing in Canada.
Your dog is likely to consume more food during the winter months because extra calories are required to generate sufficient body heat and energy to keep them warm. Because of this, it’s tempting to increase your dog’s caloric intake or allowing excess snacking during this time of year.
This is a mistake.
Extra weight can lead to joint or respiratory problems, and may cause underlying medical issues – such as arthritis – to become worse.
If your feel the need to add extra calories to your dogs diet, our veterinarians can provide expert guidance based on your dog’s breed, age and health history.
3. Make a Fashion Statement While Protecting Your Dog
Dogs at higher risk of hypothermia – young, old, ill, thin, or short-haired dogs – may need to wear a sweater to protect them from extreme temperatures. For small dogs in particular, sweaters are an important addition to their wardrobe during the cold weather months. Why? Small dogs have a greater body surface area to body weight ratio.
Sometimes, we see dogs wearing booties and think it looks absolutely absurd. From a practicality standpoint, booties are much more than a fashion statement – they can help dogs with traction on snow or ice, protect their paws from extreme cold and shield paw pads from getting cut on ice.
4. Automobiles Can Act Like a Freezer
During the cold, winter months, your automobile can act like a freezer. Hot cars are a well-known threat to dogs, but subzero cars also pose a substantial risk to your pet’s health. A car parked outside in the extreme cold can turn into freezer in short order.
Pets who are young, old, or ill are particularly at risk for becoming hypothermic and should never be left in cold cars, even if your think you’ll be back in a moments notice.
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY DOG IS TOO COLD?
What are the signs that my dog has hypothermia?
Dogs have a high tolerance for the cold – much more than humans. Don’t they? Given their thick, shiny coat of fur, it’s a natural assumption. However, for most breeds, it’s just not the case. Pets are vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite just like their pet parents and it’s our responsibility to recognize it.
It’s easy to infer that higher risk pets include the young or old, those with little body fat – hello Greyhounds! – and those with medical conditions that are exacerbated in cold conditions. Hypothyroidism? Check.
Given the puppy boom of 2020, it is imperative for new dog owners to take every precaution necessary to protect their new family member as they experience their first winter.
Hypothermia Symptoms for Dogs:
- Intense shivering.
- Lethargic behaviour – stops moving or slows down unexpectedly.
- Slow or shallow breathing patterns, or a slower heart rate.
- Pallid gums underneath their lips.
- Excessive whining; appears restless or anxious.
What to do if you suspect your dog has hypothermia
First things first: immediately bring your pet indoors, put them in a warm, dry spot and wrap in warm blankets from the dryer. It only takes a few minutes to heat them up. While you wait, take the opportunity to dry off your pet using a towel or a hair dryer on a low setting. Pets should be warmed up slowly, as they can be easily burned!
Some pet parents resort to hot water bottles, although this comes with risk if they are too hot or not applied properly. They should never be used without being wrapped in a towel. Even then, precaution is a must. If you feel this step in necessary, place the towel-wrapped bottles against the groin or by the armpits where there’s less fur.
If you believe your pet is suffering from hypothermia or frostbite, contact our clinic immediately.
TALK TO OUR VETERINARIANS ABOUT COLD WEATHER PROTECTION FOR YOUR DOG
Have you considered enrolling in our Cabbagetown Care Wellness Program? There’s no better way to keep tabs on your dog’s immediate needs for the winter months ahead.
If not, we recommend our veterinarians examine your pet once a year – at least. Having your dog checked at our clinic can help ensure that problems don’t worsen when the temperature dips. This is especially true in colder climates, such as Toronto. Being aware of your dog’s risk factors will ensure that you and your dog are prepared for cold months ahead.