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Keeping pets safe during wintry weather

Winter can be dangerous for pets
Posted at 8:18 AM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 10:18:17-05

GREAT FALLS — The upcoming sub-zero weather is not just dangerous for you, it’s also dangerous for your pets.

The Maclean Cameron Animal Adoption Center in Great Falls says that just because your pet has a fur coat doesn’t mean they can’t get frostbite or hypothermia like humans.

“(Signs of hypothermia) can be real pale skin, very intense shivering. Or, also, they might be lethargic or listless, just kind of meandering around depressed,” said Reid Vanworth, the facility's operations manager.

He also noted that bathing your pets too frequently in the winter can dry out their skin.

Vanworth recommends cleaning up any antifreeze you spill because it’s poisonous to pets and keeping the hair between their paws trimmed.

"A lot of times, the ice melt, the salt on the ground, will get stuck in there. So when you're going on a walk and you come back inside, it's a good idea to clean their paws off. make sure they're nice and dry. Salt can poison them and it's usually from them licking their own paws after a walk,” Vanworth said.

If you do have to leave your pet outside, make sure their shelter is insulated and that they have something like straw to burrow down into.

The American Veterinary Medical Association website has more information about winter safety for pets, including this excerpt:

  • Provide choices: Just like you, pets prefer comfortable sleeping places and may change their location based on their need for more or less warmth. Give them some safe options to allow them to vary their sleeping place to adjust to their needs.
  • Stay inside. Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. It's a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it's untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods in below-freezing weather.
  • Make some noise: A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it's deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood.
  • Check the paws: Check your dog's paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes.
  • Play dress-up: If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog's feet; if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.
  • Wipe down: During walks, your dog's feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down (or wash) your pet's feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after (s)he licks them off of his/her feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.
  • Provide shelter: We don't recommend keeping any pet outside for long periods of time, but if you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment.