whippet wears coat outdoors in winter

by Kerry E. McKinney, DVM

It’s no surprise it’s C-C-C-Cold outside!

Cold weather woes are common this time of year. Sometimes it’s even too cold to go outside, but for the rest of the time, a little extra precaution and awareness will ensure that walks are trouble-free. Below are some dangers to be aware of as the thermometer drops when our pets still need some outdoor time.

Hypothermia

Even brief exposures outdoors in our recent temperatures can cause a dangerous drop in core body temperature.

Pay special attention to young and old pets. They may not have enough body mass, mobility, or awareness to generate sufficient body heat. Any lethargic or poorly responsive pet found indoors or out needs immediate veterinary attention.

If you can’t tolerate more than a few minutes outside without gloves, it’s likely your pet needs protection and less time outside. Any dog doing a dance from foot to foot is likely experiencing pain from the cold contact. For short-coated breeds, use boots (if tolerated) and sweaters or jackets for brief trips outdoors to eliminate.

For our Arctic-happy but not acclimated dogs, it’s still important to limit outdoor time and check paws and ears for normal appearance and temperature.

Frostbite

This degree of tissue injury can happen surprisingly quickly in below-freezing temperatures. The initial appearance is a red or bruised area that darkens to black followed by sloughing skin which can leave the area susceptible to infection.

Limit your pet’s time outdoors, check ears and paws for injury, and help remove ice balls that can form between toes. Be especially alert to signs of pain or trauma such as licking at the feet or limping.

If you suspect cold injury, gently warm the area and monitor for improvement, seek veterinary help if the area doesn’t return to normal within a few hours or your pet appears painful or lethargic.

Ice Melt Injury

Many of the products we use to melt ice on walks and driveways can cause stomach upset, irritate skin, and potentially lead to metabolic illness in pets with kidney disease. Use the least amount necessary.

Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium Chloride salts can cause vomiting and hemorrhagic diarrhea if ingested in large amounts.

Calcium salts can cause GI upset and irritate skin.

Urea-based products are usually labeled pet-safe and small ingestions cause drooling and mild GI upset. However, large ingestions can also cause weakness, muscle tremors, and damage red blood cells.

Dehydration

This is something we think of more when it’s hot, but hydration is just as important when the weather is cold. All pets need shelter in extreme weather, and those housed primarily outdoors also need free access to water. Ensure water is freshened several times a day and not frozen (electric bowls are one option).

Older pets with decreased kidney function can become critically ill without sufficient access to water.

Ticks

Okay, this one isn’t really a concern in sub-zero temperatures. But when it heats up above 34-36 F, you can bet these pests will be crawling out of the leaf litter, climbing onto tall grass and brush, and looking for a bite to eat. Really!

It’s safe to say we don’t have tick concerns every day of the year in Michigan. Nevertheless, we do still need to protect our pets every month of the year so keep your flea and tick preventives on the to-do list.

If cold weather woes are bringing you down, here’s a warm thought: as of this writing, the first day of Spring is less than 50 days away…