Harsh Winter Weather is Equally Hard on Pets

The heavy snow and Arctic-like weather of the past week should serve as a reminder to pet owners that special precautions should be made for health and welfare of their dogs and cats.

Dr. Donna Alexander, administrator of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, issued a number of tips for pet owners to keep in mind during the winter season. “Given that this is only January, and we are likely to have several weeks of severe weather ahead of us, it is important for pet owners to remember that they should adjust their pets’ normal routine,” Alexander said. “Prolonged exposure to cold, snow and ice can be as dangerous for dogs and cats as it is for humans.”

Among her recommendations:

  • Bring all pets indoors. All dogs and cats, whether acclimated to outdoor living, must be brought indoors during severe (sub-zero) weather. Even creatures of the wild seek shelter when temperatures plummet. As the responsible caregiver of a pet, you should provide an indoor heated shelter for your animal. Despite their abundance of hair, all domesticated dogs and cats are subject to frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Salt and ice. Both salt and ice can irritate your dog’s footpads. If your dog will tolerate them, foot coverings are advised. If your dog will not tolerate foot coverings, avoid the salt when possible and wash their paws with warm water when you return home. Walking the dog in the snow as opposed to the salted sidewalk may be advisable but in extreme low temperatures this could add to frostbite concerns.
  • Frostbite. Dogs and cats may have fur coats, but they also have exposed areas that are susceptible to frostbite. Limit their time outdoors for waste elimination only. Walks should not exceed 10 minutes in sub-zero temperatures. Check their pads when you get home and wash with warm (not hot) moist towels. If you suspect frostbite on any extremity (don’t forget the nose or the tips of the ears) contact your veterinarian.
  • Properly secure potentially poisonous material, such as antifreeze. Antifreeze is extremely toxic to all living creatures. It is also sweet to the taste but even a drop can be lethal. Keep antifreeze bottles out of the reach of animals and clean up all antifreeze spills immediately and effectively.
  • Feral and wild animals. Feral cats and wild animals will seek refuge and warmth wherever they can. Your car’s engine may provide a warm spot to “hole up” in sub-zero conditions. Honk your horn before you start your car to give a wake-up call to any critters before you turn on the ignition. If they have chosen your attic or your garage as a refuge, close off access to the rest of the house. Contact the appropriate authorities for their removal but be prepared for an assessment of your home for its accessibility to wildlife intrusion.
  • Dr. Alexander also reminded pet owners that they should have an established doctor-patient-client relationship with a veterinarian close to home and establish an emergency protocol.

“If your pet is receiving ongoing prescription treatment, make sure you have adequate amounts in case of closures due to weather,” Alexander said. “Know where your closest emergency veterinary clinic is located or the policies of your primary care veterinarian regarding emergencies.”


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