It’s winter again! Our Connecticut winters present unique challenges for both people and their pets. Preventing frostbite, avoiding poisoning and irritation from de-icers, and staying warm on chilly walks are just a few of the steps that pet owners can take to help make winter a safe and fun time for the whole family.
It’s that time of year again. The weather is colder and pet owners need to take extra care to protect their animals from the winter chill. If your dog doesn’t have a thick, plush hair coat, consider a warm jacket for temperatures that drop below 20°F. Check that the jacket is snug but not restricting and that your male dog doesn’t urinate on the bottom belly strap. While road salt is only mildly poisonous to dogs, it can cause irritation to the skin, paws, and gastrointestinal tract when directly ingested. Make sure to use pet-friendly ice melts (which don’t contain salt). More importantly, since you don’t know what your neighbors have put down, make sure to use a damp cloth to wipe off your pet’s paws after coming into the house.
There are many reasons why it is advisable to keep your cat indoors at all times. Even if you know your cat is in the house, make sure to bang on your car hood before starting the car (this is particularly important if you see paw prints on your hood). Stray cats often seek warmth under a vehicle’s hood or in tire wells and can develop severe injuries (including broken jaw bones, severe lacerations, etc.) when the car is started. Within your home, avoid the use of space heaters and other sources of external heat. These have the potential to cause carbon monoxide poisoning, accidental fire, or thermal injury to your pet.
Twenty minute walks outside are unlikely to result in problems, but if you take your dog hiking or running for prolonged hours at a time, ice crystals can develop in peripheral tissues (like the ears, prepuce, vulva, tail tip, and toes). Keep a careful eye out for the signs of frostbite: redness, skin that is cool to touch, swelling and eventual sloughing of the tissue. If you notice any signs of frost-nip (the stage immediately before frostbite) or frostbite, make sure to bring your pet into a sheltered, warm area immediately. Most importantly, avoid touching or heating the area aggressively. Slow re-warming of the tissue with lukewarm water is best. This will prevent further injury from rapid thawing of the ice crystals in the tissue. Do not rewarm the area until it can be kept warm. Warming and then re-exposing the frostbitten area to cold air can cause worse damage. If there is no water nearby, breathe on the area through cupped hands and hold it next to your body. Seek immediate attention from your veterinarian to make sure pain medication, salves, or antibiotics aren’t necessary. Keep in mind that once tissue has undergone frostbite, that tissue is more susceptible in the future.
By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be able to curl up with your beloved furball by the fire and enjoy a safe winter!