Years ago, I was dating a guy who left his aging Golden Retriever outside at night. Granted this was in California, but the temp in winter could be in the 40’s and even the 30’s (with humidity) and the senior dog only had cement to lay on. As this bothered me, I bought a large dog bed for him. In addition, I asked the boyfriend if his dog could come in at night – at least into the laundry room, but he wouldn’t allow this. He would just say, “He’s fine.” So, I would explain, “He’s likely arthritic due to his age, look how hard it is for him to get up and lay down.” Still, he wouldn’t budge. And this was supposedly his “beloved” dog, the one he had for 14 years; the one who helped raise his kids. It goes without saying… our relationship did not last long!
I might have understood if he just didn’t recognize how the cold may affect his dog, but once informed, he refused to take any action. Some people do not realize how cold weather, especially freezing temps can affect our pets. For instance, did you know that dogs can lose their scent in ice and snow and easily become lost? That leaving your dog in your car when it’s cold can act as a refrigerator/freezer? That puppies do not tolerate cold as well as adult dogs?
Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary – based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. If your dog is spending time outdoors, increase his/her food intake as they will burn more calories needed to keep them warm. During walks, your dog’s feet, legs and belly may pick up antifreeze or other chemicals that could be toxic. After a walk, wipe down (or wash) your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk your dog will be poisoned after licking them off their feet or fur. It’s a good idea to 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 may be due to ice accumulation between their toes. Be sure to remove as soon as possible. You can also try waterproof booties although most dogs don’t seem to like wearing them!
Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and are more prone to slipping and falling. If your pet is short, there’s more chance their belly or whole body will come in contact with snow covered ground. If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by cold weather, consider a waterproof coat. Wet sweaters and coats can actually make your dog colder. Dry your dog off when they come inside, remove any ice or snow.
Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. Senior dogs are not as tolerant of cold weather as younger dogs – arthritis causes joints to be more painful in the cold. They also have less muscle mass and body fat to keep them warm. Yearly wellness exams are important to identify any health issues and make sure your pet is as healthy as possible for the cold weather conditions.
It’s always best in extreme cold temperatures to keep your pets inside. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are much more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it’s untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather, but still they are not exempt from suffering during long periods in below-freezing weather.
For outdoor and feral cats – a warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source, but can be deadly. If your car is parked outside and you’ve seen cats in your area, check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to discourage feline hitchhikers.
It’s always a good idea for your pet to have a collar and tag and/or microchip, especially in winter as many pets become lost; snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find their way home.
If you are unable to keep your pet inside during cold weather, provide a warm, solid shelter against the wind. Make sure they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water. It’s important the floor of the shelter be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds.
Recognize problems: If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are 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.
If you are concerned about an animal being left outdoors in below freezing temps for long-periods of time without adequate shelter, please contact Animal Control and request a welfare check.
For more pet safety tips in winter weather, here are 10 recommended precautions from the ASPCA: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/cold-weather-safety-tips.