Winter temperatures can plummet quickly, putting not only pet owners, but also pets at risk. Our team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital wants to help you keep your pet safe from the effects of frigid conditions. Keep reading for our answers to your cold weather pet safety FAQs.

Question: How tolerant is my pet to the cold?

Answer: Your pet’s cold tolerance is based on several factors. For example, pets bred to live or work in cold weather have a high cold tolerance and often enjoy spending extra time outdoors, while small, short-legged pets can be extremely vulnerable to the cold. Specific considerations include:

  • Coat type — Dense, curly, and double coats trap heat better than short, single, or fine coats. 
  • Coat color — Dark colors absorb heat from sunlight, while light colors reflect UV rays.
  • Size — Small pets have a higher surface area-to-mass ratio, and lose heat faster than larger pets. 
  • Leg length — Pets with short legs are more exposed to cold from the ground.
  • Age — Puppies and senior pets have difficulty regulating their body temperature and get cold faster than adults.
  • Health status — Endocrine and metabolic disorders (e.g., thyroid disease, diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome), and heart and kidney disease make body temperature regulation more difficult. Extremely thin pets lack insulating body fat and feel the chill much faster than normal or overweight pets.

If you determine that your pet is cold intolerant, limit their time outdoors and take extra precautions to keep them warm. 

Q: Does my pet need a jacket when outside?

A: If your pet has a health condition or is sensitive to the cold, consider a sweater or coat to give them an added layer of warmth. A waterproof coat will also keep them dry in rain or snow. When choosing a pet jacket or sweater, ensure their back is covered from neck to tail, and that the coat fits snuggly through their chest but does not restrict shoulder movement or breathing.

Q: How can I protect my pet’s paw pads from the cold and snow?

A: Cold temperatures, snow, ice, and salt on the sidewalk can seriously damage your pet’s paws, but they can be protected: 

  • Paw balms — Regularly applying paw balm to your pet’s paw pads can help keep their skin paws soft and supple during cold weather and minimize skin damage from deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals on walkways. Reapply the balm after returning from walks. 
  • Pet booties — Durable pet booties keep your pet’s paws covered and protected, and provide extra warmth. Measure your pet from the heel to the tip of the toenail to ensure a proper fit. Your pet may take a while to get used to walking in the booties, but the added protection will give you peace of mind and keep their paws protected and warm. 
  • Paw wipes — If you walk your pet outside without booties, wipe down their paws thoroughly when you return home to minimize potential damage from salt, ice, and snow. 

Q: Can I leave my pet in the car during cold weather?

A: For your pet’s safety, you should never leave them unattended in a car, regardless of the outside temperature. Leaving your pet in a parked vehicle on warm days puts them at risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, and cold winter can be equally dangerous, because a pet left inside a vehicle in cold weather can quickly succumb to hypothermia. If you’re running errands and plan to leave your pet in your vehicle—don’t. Leave them at home, safe and warm.

Q: What are hypothermia signs in pets?

A: Hypothermia refers to the extreme lowering of body temperature, typically from spending too much time outside in inclement weather. When a pet becomes too cold, their body responds by shunting blood away from the extremities to their core to ensure their organs stay warm, which can have serious results. You may see the following signs if your pet has hypothermia:

  • Shivering
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Confusion
  • Shallow or slowed breathing
  • Irregular or slowed heart rate
  • Dilated pupils

As hypothermia worsens, your pet will stop shivering and may slip into a coma, so watch for early hypothermia signs in cold weather so you can act quickly and prevent them from becoming hypothermic. Hypothermia can be life-threatening without immediate treatment and your pet needs veterinary care if their body temperature drops below 98 degrees.

Take precautions to reduce your pet’s risk of a cold weather situation, but if they still manage to get into chilly trouble, contact Columbia Pike Animal Hospital immediately.