Winter weather can mean colder temperatures and, as a result, more layers of warm clothing. In many parts of the country, it’s commonplace to see people wrapped in scarves, hats, gloves, furry boots and puffy parkas. But what about your pets? Sure, they may be insulated by their own fur, but sometimes that might not be enough.
Bitter cold can be dangerous to animals and people alike. Similar to humans, the cold tolerance in pets can vary depending on their level of body fat, activity level and health (in addition to the animal’s type of coat), according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Thick-coated or long-haired pets tend to be more tolerant of the cold, says the AVMA, while short-haired pets tend to be more susceptible to cold temperatures because they have less natural insulation (fur).
If your dog has long fur, consider trimming the coat to help minimize the clumping of snow balls and the clinging of salt crystals and de-icing chemicals, suggests the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Dogs with short fur may benefit from a coat or sweater with coverage from the tail to the neck to help keep their bodies warm.
Also, pets with shorter legs can be more susceptible to cold weather because their bodies are closer to the ground and may come into contact with snow and ice. The ASPCA suggests to bring a towel along during long walks to dry off your dog’s stomach and remove ice, salt and chemicals.
It’s important to be aware of your pet’s tolerance to cold weather and adjust your routine accordingly. Consider taking shorter walks with your dog and avoid slippery terrain with elderly or arthritic dogs.
The AVMA suggests you contact your veterinarian to help determine your pet’s temperature limits and identify specific vulnerabilities.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) says that pets are the “happiest and healthiest” when kept indoors. While dogs and cats may enjoy exploring outdoors and even frolicking in the snow, keeping your pets indoors during the winter may be the right option, especially in particularly frigid parts of the country.
This time of year, the body temperature of your pets may be the main concern, but don’t overlook the parts of your pet that are the most vulnerable: their paws.
When you do take your dog out for walks, be aware of salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice on streets and sidewalks. The HSUS suggests that after a walk, wipe all paws with a damp towel (don’t forget between the toes!) to help prevent your pet from licking them, which could lead to mouth irritation.
Coating your pets’ paws with petroleum jelly or other paw-protecting products before going outside can help protect your pet from salt and other chemicals, says the ASPCA. You can also consider small booties, which provide additional coverage.
While cold temperatures may pose some health risks to cats and dogs, if you take the proper precautions and provide your pets with sweaters, jackets and booties when they need them, winter walks can be enjoyable for both you and your favorite pet.