Some of our pets are more susceptible to cold than others. We have to take special care of our older, chronically ill and the extremely young pets, as they have difficulty coping with weather extremes. Also we need to take special precautions with our short-legged friends. As they walk over the cold ground, such as when it is wet from rain or covered in snow, their body is exposed to lower temperatures. The skin along the lower chest and belly has very little fur, and there is less protection from the cold. The same idea holds for pets that are short furred over their entire body. The shorter fur does not protect them from the elements as well as longer fur does. However, even on the arctic breeds long fur does not impart absolute protection. Those breeds that are bred for arctic temperatures need to be monitored for signs of hypothermia, especially when the temperature is below freezing. This is true if there are wet conditions or a low wind chill factor. Look carefully at your pet and consider all the risk factors when allowing them to stay outdoors.
How do we allow our pets to enjoy the outdoors in the cold weather? When the temperature drops, we need to shorten our times outdoors. This will mean shorter walks and shorter trips outside to use the bathroom. If our pets have shorter fur, consider a sweater for them. Or if the budget allows, you can go all out and buy an entire snow suit. That is completely up to you and your furry friend. As we said earlier, wet conditions are a problem, so do not forget to dry everyone when they come back inside. The removal of the water will allow their body temperature to come back to normal much faster. Some of our pets insist on coming on rides with us since their time outdoors will be limited due to the cold; however, resist the urge to leave them in the car while you run into the store. The temperature in the car drops very quickly and then it is no different from leaving them outdoors. Just remember, if you are cold, so are they.
Shelter is essential during these cold times. Several of our dogs and cats do not or are not able to stay indoors for a variety of reasons, but that does not mean they are immune to the cold temperatures. When the temperatures start to drop, our pets need to come indoors if at all possible. This can mean a basement, garage, or even a tool shed. This will protect them from the wind and any precipitation we may experience. If these are not options available to you and your furry friend, then adequate housing needs to be available for them. The shelter needs to protect them from the wind, rain and snow. It also needs to be off the ground with dry blankets or shavings to add insulation. Resist the urge to use lamps or heaters, as this may burn the dog or cat, and it could spark a fire in the shelter. If they have protection from the wind and precipitation with adequate bedding, their body temperature will add the additional heat needed.
Do not forget, our cats are also looking for shelter during these cold times, and the best spot may be a car engine. The car or truck protects them from the wind and precipitation, and the engine is usually warm from when you drove last. Because of this, make noise, such as honking the horn or beating on the hood, to scare any animals out of your engine before cranking it.
Remember the essentials of cold weather. Shelter is the most important thing to combat the elements. All animals need adequate shelter to protect them. Also remember to take special care of the pets that are short furred, short legged, old, and very young since they are more susceptible to the extreme cold. Lastly, remember if you are cold and uncomfortable, so are they. Now let’s hope the warmer weather returns soon so we can all go outside and enjoy ourselves.
Kristian Shriver, DVM