Winter storms like the one striking the Northeastern United States today can be scary, especially when you’re caught outside in one.
Pets are just as susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite as humans. They can lose body temperature and not be able to replace it. This puts them at great risk. Here is some advice for pet safety during winter storms.
Be safe — bring your outdoor cat inside.
What about feral cats? Although many ferals won’t go near each other, it’s not uncommon to see boundaries flex for the sake of survival.
You can buy a shelter for feral cats or make one yourself. Some garden centers sell ready-made shelters with insulation and bedding already inside. If you have supplies but little money or need a larger shelter for a bigger colony, DIY is an option.
Bring them inside. Outdoor dogs need shelter just like cats do. The next best option for outdoor-only dogs is to buy or build a suitable shelter.
Other considerations for dogs in the winter:
- Watch out for icy sidewalks and roads, slippery slopes and frozen water. Dogs can fall through the ice as easily as anyone else.
- They can also get ice lodged in their paw pads. The more hair they have, the more ice they can accumulate. Keep the paws trimmed of fur.
- Dogs will lick salt (from walkways) off their paws, leading to possible to stomach upset, or dry or chapped paws. So wipe those paws after walks. Boots work well for protecting the paws.
- On walks, your dog should remain leashed.
- During the height of a blizzard, you should not walk your dog outside. Heavy branches or loosened trees could fall. A stark reminder of this possibility occurred during Superstorm Sandy, when a pair of dog walkers were killed by a falling tree. Don’t risk it.
- Even after the storm has passed, take extreme caution on walks outside.
- Beware of antifreeze. Although a bittering agent has been added to some antifreeze, you may have a brand that didn’t do that or have old antifreeze in your garage. Clean antifreeze spills and place the product on a high shelf.
- Don’t forget to bang on your hood before starting your car. Cats will often seek out the warmth of a car engine, sometimes even long after the car is turned off.
Animals can get hypothermia — and frostbite — just like humans. The chance of either condition increases as the temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and your pet is exposed to the weather.
Signs that your pet may be suffering from hypothermia:
- Shallow or short breathing
- Slow pulse
- Cold skin
- Low rectal temperature
- Pale gums
- Change in the pupils
Any of these signs is serious and should not be ignored. Grab any material, towels or clothes, and wrap your dog up. You need to raise the dog’s temperature back to normal slowly, so don’t immediately rush for a vehicle or confined space with a heater running full blast.
If you have water bottles or heat packs, wrap them before applying to the dog’s skin as they might cause burns or discomfort if hot and applied directly to the skin.
Take temperature readings every 10 to 20 minutes. You can also place the dog in a warm bath for a few minutes to see if it helps; just keep the water warm — not hot.
If you don’t see any change, get to the veterinarian or an animal hospital.
Preparing for a Winter Storm
Here is a list of items to consider when preparing for a winter storm:
- Assorted batteries
- Lanterns or flashlights
- Water and food (combination of dry and canned)
- Medications — refill prescriptions in advance; take note of any temperature sensitivities for storing the medication and follow the directions
- Charge phones, tablets, and other devices
- Emergency contact numbers — for you, your family members, your vet and the nearest emergency animal hospital
- Battery-operated radio
- Blankets, towels, comforters and extra socks
- Extra collars, ID tags, leashes and harnesses
- A picture of your pet as well as microchip information
- Clean litter for cats and small animals
- First aid kit
- Matches or lighters
- Fire extinguisher
- Manual can opener
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This pet health content was reviewed by a veterinarian.