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Ten vital cold-weather tips for pet owners

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The frigid temperatures around the country are not just inconvenient; they can be incredibly dangerous for our pets. Experts say frostbite can set in in less than 15 minutes, and animals are not exempt from this, despite their furry coats.

Hypothermia is the most dangerous hazard when the weather gets this cold. Signs of hypothermia include “violent shivering followed by listlessness, a rectal temperature below 95°F (35°C), weak pulse, lethargy, and coma.” It can become fatal very fast.

It goes without saying that every dog and cat needs to be indoors during cold temperatures like these. I would argue, however, that dogs and cats need to be indoors during any cold temperatures. If you are cold, they are cold, simple as that. Outdoors is no place for pets.

Here are 10 cold-weather tips for your pets:

Anti-freeze can be fatal

Anti-freeze is poisonous. Even a lick or two on a quick walk can add up to distress for your dog. Keep an eye out for any liquid on sidewalks and steer clear of it. Also, do not let your dogs roam freely where you cannot monitor their activity. If there is any doubt that your dog may have ingested anti-freeze, take him to the vet immediately.

Pay extra attention to puppies

Puppies are more susceptible to the cold than dogs due to their tender age. They will suffer from the harsh realities of the cold quicker and should not spend much time outdoors in harsh weather conditions. In addition, they may have some issues potty training during cold spells. Understandably, puppies may have more accidents in this weather.

Cars and feral cats

Cats are particularly vulnerable to the cold and can freeze to death. They are also crafty and smart and will do what they have to do to stay warm and alive. When left outside, many cats seek to find warmth in car hoods and engines, and can easily be killed when cars are turned on. Take a peek under your hood and tires before turning on your car.

Leash and collar

When walking puppies and dogs, make sure their collars are secure and never let them off the leash. Getting lost in sub-zero temps is deadly. Their scent trails are compromised in the snow, and frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly, leaving them unable to find their way back home.


Frostbite most often occurs on the thin, exposed areas of a dog such as their ears, tail, scrotum, and paws. The skin may look blue or white, but will appear red and inflamed when circulation comes back. The surface of the skin may peel and eventually turn black. Use warm (not hot) compresses on the affected areas and then seek medical care.

Cars can be death traps

It’s worth remembering that a cold car can be just as deadly as a hot car for a dog. They can freeze to death in a vehicle with no heat. Not only are they already at freezing temps, but cars can act as a refrigerator, keeping all the coldness inside.

Stay away from salt

Be on the lookout for salt on sidewalks and driveways, which can irritate and even burn your pup’s paws. Wipe their paws off with a paper towel or warm cloth when you return from a walk.

Check on neighboring pets

It’s imperative to remember that if we see an animal left outside in this weather, we must report it to the proper authorities ASAP. Dogs left outside in cold temperatures suffer needlessly and can easily die. It is a form of abuse. We are the protectors of animals and need to be vigilant about their well being at all times.

Indoor comfort

When indoors, try to let your dog sleep in a warm spot. Ideally, every dog should have a bed (or share yours) and not sleep on a hardwood floor. Make sure to place the bed away from doors and drafts.

More food

Dogs that are kept outside often need extra food in the winter months to keep warm. If you must keep your dog outside for periods in the daytime (not recommended), make sure you are supplying them with extra calories all day long (and a sheltered, cozy doghouse). And never, ever leave your dogs out at night!

Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Sullivan also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find Sullivan on her blogs, Just Write Mom and Some Puppy To Love.

Updated 4:55 pm, July 9, 2018
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