From large family gatherings and comfort food to holiday decorations and crackling fireplaces, winter is an amazing time of year. But amid all the gift buying and meal preparation, don't forget about your pets. Winter might be a magical time for us, but it presents unique hazards for our cats and dogs. By making yourself aware of these dangers and planning accordingly, you can save your pet a terrifying visit to the vet—and maybe even save their life, too. Here's 6 winter dangers every per owner should watch our for.
Hypothermia (or extremely low body temperature) is one of the most serious dangers your pet faces during winter. Coma, organ failure, and even death can result if not promptly treated. Sick, underweight and older pets—as well as those with little fur—are especially vulnerable to hypothermia, and should be kept indoors during winter when at all possible. It’s important to monitor your pet during winter, as early detection is crucial to tackling hypothermia. Here’s the common symptoms to look out for:
- Intense shivering
- Difficulty breathing/shallow breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle stiffness
- Weak pulse
If you fear your pet may have hypothermia, contact your vet immediately. To help raise your pet’s body temperature, you can place warm water bottles wrapped in towels under their armpits and chest. Wrapping them in a blanket warmed in the dryer is also effective. (Never use methods such as hair dryers or electric blankets, as these can cause burns to hypothermic animals). To prevent hypothermia, never let your pet endure cold weather for extended periods of time, and consider bundling them up in warm clothing whenever the temperature drops.
Freezing of the skin and tissue, commonly known as frostbite, is one of winter’s scariest threats. Exposed to sub-freezing temperatures and chilling winds, your cat or dog can succumb to frostbite in only a matter of minutes. From permanent tissue damage to loss of limbs to death, frostbite should be at the top of every pet owner's mind as fall and winter roll around. Frostbite symptoms include:
- Red, gray, blue, white or pale skin
- Shriveled skin
- Pain in the ears, tail, paws or other extremities
- Skin that remains cold to the touch over long periods of time
You can help prevent frostbite by quickly removing ice and snow from your pet’s paws after they’ve been outside (pay special attention to any snow or ice balls that may have formed in between their toes). If you worry your cat or dog may have frostbite, contact your vet right away. Applying warm—but not hot—water to frostbitten extremities can provide relief. Be careful not to rub or massage areas suspected of frostbite, doing so can cause irreversible damage.
From small spills to slow vehicle leaks, antifreeze can kill your cat or dog. And unfortunately, due to its sweet smell and taste, animals often confuse the substance for something edible. If you suspect antifreeze poisoning, and your pet seems disoriented, is excessively drooling, or simply acting abnormal, consult a vet immediately. Remember to always store antifreeze out of reach of your pets, regardless of the season.
In winter, cats and smaller dogs will occasionally seek warmth near running vehicles. While most will curl up next to the exhaust, some kittens have been known to work their way under the hood of a vehicle for added heat and shelter. To guard you and your neighbors’ pets from possible disaster, check your car before taking off each day. You might just save a little life by doing so.
Salts used to melt snow and ice pose several health risks to pets. If ingested, these substances can cause mouth burns, painful gastrointestinal distress, and in rare cases even death. More commonly, these salts will irritate or damage your pet’s paw pads and skin. Thankfully, there are ways you can help protect your pet from such injuries:
- Place waterproof booties on their feet before walks in snowy or icy weather
- Using warm water, wash your pet’s feet, legs and underbelly after winter walks
- When treating your own sidewalks and driveway, choose pet-safe de-icers—like sand, gravel or kitty litter
- On walks, avoid areas that tend to be heavily salted
- Contact your local city officials about switching to pet-friendly de-icing methods
As the cold returns and pests move indoors, homeowners commonly arm their houses with rodenticides, poisons intended to control rats and mice. Sadly, rodenticides represent one of the most common sources of pet poisoning during the fall and winter months. For the sake of your pets (and family), we suggest going natural with your rodent control instead. Regardless of what direction you choose, never place rodenticides in areas accessible to your cat, dog or other pets. (Similarly, we suggest going non-toxic with your insect control, too).