Cold Weather and Winter Pet Safety

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Follow these winter tips to keep your dog or cat safe.

Winter storms and frigid temperatures are not always fun, especially when our four-legged family members want to go outside and play. Our feline friends may be content snuggling up in front of the fireplace all day, but our canine buddies will need to go outside regardless of the frigid temperature. Take a few extra precautions to ensure your pets are safe and warm both inside and outside this winter.

Ways to Keep Pets Warm in the Cold

Even though cats and dogs have fur to keep warm, not all breeds will enjoy being outside in extremely cold weather. Each animal will tolerate cold weather differently depending on the breed, body size, age and type of coat. All dogs have two layers of fur: the undercoat and the outer coat.1 Both work to keep the dog warm during the winter and cool in the summer. Similarly, most cats have a double-coat as well, but some breeds have triple-coats that provide even more warmth in the winter.2 Even the heartiest cat or dog, however, may benefit from a sweater or coat when venturing outside in frigid weather. Short haired cats and dogs especially. Why not find warm cozy, and stylish, outerwear to help keep you pet warm? Make sure garments fit properly (not too snug and not too loose), with a comfortable lining that doesn’t restrict movement.

Winter Pet Safety

When you are outside with your pet, keep an eye on your pet and how they respond to the cold. All creatures, including humans, are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia which is the result of long exposure to the cold. Be aware that air temperature is not the only risk outdoors. Wind chill, ice and snow can all cause harm with too much exposure. Also, chemicals from ice melt or salt, antifreeze (ethylene glycol) and carbon monoxide from idling cars can pose risks to your pets. Note that propylene glycol is sold as a “pet safe” antifreeze, but can still be toxic in large quantities.

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A wintery landscape can also cause confusion or be disorienting for pets. Keep an extra eye on them when outdoors because snow can hide familiar scents and sights that pets normally rely on to get home. Always have an up-to-date identification on your pet’s collar. Remember, the best prevention against lost pets is to have your pet micro-chipped.

Signs of Hypothermia

Perhaps the biggest winter risks to pets when outdoors is hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia, which occurs when the body temperature is too low, can come on suddenly depending on the breed and body size. The first signs of hypothermia in pets are: 3

  • Pale skin
  • Excessive shivering
  • Lethargy

Older pets, younger pets, pets with injuries and thin-skinned breeds are particularly susceptible to hypothermia, so time outdoors should be limited during the winter. Coats, sweaters and booties will help, but the best prevention against hypothermia is to avoid extended exposure to cold.4

Frostbite Symptoms

Pets are also at risk of frostbite, which typically occurs on the nose, ears, tail, or your pet’s paws. Symptoms include

  • Pale blue or gray skin color
  • Shivering
  • Pain when the affected area is touched

If you think your pet has frostbite, use warm, dry towels to warm to increase body temperature. Gently treat affected areas with lukewarm water. Do not rub affected areas. The thawing process after frostbite is extremely painful, so a veterinarian should be consulted immediately to avoid shock or permanent damage to limbs.5

Frostbite and hypothermia can affect any pet. Make sure your dog or cat is safe this winter.

How Long Should Your Pet Spend Outside?

Unfortunately, there aren’t specific guidelines on how much time outdoors is too much for your pet. For the most part, however, pets will be fine outdoors when the temperature is 45 degrees or above. When the temperature drops to freezing, most pets will require a coat and potentially booties. For temperatures under 20 degrees, keep outdoor activities to a minimum.6 Also, remember that in addition to air temperature, wind chill can impact your pet’s body heat and poses a risk to pets when outside.

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Cold Weather Tips for Pets That Love the Snow

Winter weather shouldn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors with your pets. Some dog breeds thrive in cold weather and will be howling to go outside to romp in the snow. Similarly, some breeds of cats love the cold and even enjoy snow. Outdoor cats should be able to enjoy roaming outside during the winter, but encourage your cat to spend more time inside or set up a warm shelter outdoors with proper bedding like straw, which doesn’t retain moisture. For the most part, your routine doesn’t necessarily have to change too much in the winter. If anything, simply spend a bit less time outdoors than you would during the summer.

Winter Storms

If you live in an area that experiences extreme snow storms, blizzards or ice storms, you should make sure to be prepared to ensure your pet is safe during an emergency. Stock up on pet food, water, medication and necessary pet care items as part of the family emergency kit and have a safety plan in case of a power outage or evacuation. Have a spare leash with proper identification in an accessible place and make sure a family member is designated to secure the pets. Of course, in an extreme emergency situation, ensure human family members are safe before tending to four-legged family members.

Don't let the cold slow you or your pet down. Get out there and enjoy some winter activities!

When venturing outdoors during extreme winter weather, keep your dog on leash and be attentive. Look out for ice patches that can cause frostbite and injure paws. Never let your dog walk on frozen lakes, ponds or rivers no matter how thick the ice looks. Use your common sense when enjoying the outdoors with your pets, and know your pet’s behavior and look for signs of discomfort. With a bit of extra attention and some preparation, you and your pets can weather the winter safely as well as enjoy the winter wonderland. 

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Like winter weather, life can be unpredictable which is why it’s important to be prepared for unexpected pet health costs. Pets Best offers a wide range of pet health insurance plans that cover accidents, as well as illnesses. Our plans have customizable annual limits, annual deductibles, and 70, 80, or 90 percent reimbursement, so you can be sure to find a plan that fits your situation best. Insuring your pet while they are young can also reduce the risk of pre-existing conditions from being excluded from coverage.

Sources

(1) https://www.dog.com/content/dog-health/dog-fur-facts/

(2) https://prettylittercats.com/blogs/prettylitter-blog/how-to-survive-your-cats-hair-shed-this-summer

(3) https://www.petmd.com/dog/emergency/common-emergencies/e_dg_hypothermia

(4) http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/hypothermia-and-your-pet

(5) https://petcentral.chewy.com/dog-safety-tips-for-blizzards-every-pet-parent-should-know/

(6) https://www.pedigreefoundation.org/cold-cold-dog/

*Terms and conditions apply, see policy for details.

Pet insurance offered and administered by Pets Best Insurance Services, LLC is underwritten by American Pet Insurance Company (APIC), a New York insurance company or Independence American Insurance Company (IAIC), a Delaware insurance company. Please see www.americanpetinsurance.com to review all available pet health insurance products underwritten by APIC. IAIC is a member of The IHC Group, an organization of insurance carriers and marketing and administrative affiliates, please see www.ihcgroup.com for additional information. Please refer to your declarations page to determine the underwriter for your policy. Each insurer has sole financial responsibility for its own products

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