Pets and Weather

​​​Wild animals make it through the worst weather, but your dog or cat is a long way from wild. Extreme heat and cold weather pose all sorts of threats to pets.

Food, water and shelter are the top priorities, but grooming and leashing are important, too. Here are some tips to keep your best friend happy and healthy no matter what the weather. Some of these things are common sense matters. Some aren’t so obvious.​​​​

  • Food: Outdoor pets need more food, of good quality, in cold weather to produce body heat. Indoor pets get less exercise during the cold months, so ease off on their food a bit.
  • Shelter: Outdoor animals need a dry house that’s large enough for them to stand, sit, turn around and lie down comfortably, but not so large that its normal body heat is lost. Line the bottom with dry, nonabsorbent material that won’t get wet, matted, and frozen. Marsh hay works well; leaves and fabric do not.
  • Water: Make sure your outdoor pets have fresh water daily – ice or snow will not do, because the animal has to expend too much body heat melting them. Ideally, you can provide an inexpensive heater that sits right in the water bowl to prevent freezing. If you can’t do that, fill the bowl with fresh, tepid water at least twice a day.
  • Antifreeze: Leaked or spilled antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is a deadly lure to animals with its sweet taste. Clean it up, and if possible, switch to a less dangerous formulation like propylene glycol.
  • Walking: Rub petroleum jelly on your pets’ paws before heading out for a walk. It will protect them from salt and other de-icers. When you get back inside, wipe paws, legs and stomach to remove any de-icers or antifreeze that the animal might lick off itself. Be sure to remove any snow or ice between the paw pads, too, to prevent bleeding. While you’re outdoors, keep your dog leashed. Snow and ice can make it difficult for dogs to follow a scent, and they can become lost or run away in panic. Finally, those sweaters and coats some people put on their dogs are not just cute. Short-haired dogs really need them outdoors in cold weather.​
  • Grooming: Wet, dirty, matted coats cannot insulate against the cold, so be sure your animals are well-groomed. But never shave a dog’s coat in winter. After bathing an animal, dry it thoroughly before letting it outdoors.
  • Cars: Cats sometimes crawl under cars and into the engine compartment, seeking shelter and warmth. Bang on the hood before starting the car on cold days to startle sleeping animals. And remember, just as cars heat to oven temperature in summer, they can be equally deadly in winter when they turn into freezers. Don’t leave your pet alone in a vehicle. It may freeze to death.
  • Sleeping: Even indoor animals needs a warm place to sleep, off the floor and out of drafts. This is especially true for old or ill animals.

​Heat stroke is a very real threat to animals, and can be fatal even with prompt treatment. Pets that have already suffered heat stroke once are more susceptible, as are animals that are very young or very old, have health problems, are overweight, or are snub-nosed.

Signs of heat stroke include panting, staring or stupor, breathing difficulty, an anxious expression, refusal to obey, warm dry skin, fever, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and collapse. If you see any of these signs, call your veterinarian immediately. Get the animal out of direct heat and get it wet however you can -- with towels soaked in cool water, with a hose, in a wading pool. If you use towels, it will be most effective on less hairy parts of the body, like a dog's belly and legs. Here's how to prevent heat stroke:

  • ​Never leave an animal in a parked vehicle, even for a few minutes. The temperature in a parked car may hit 120 degrees within minutes, so just a 10-minute stop may be dangerous. Opening the windows a few inches doesn't provide enough cooling. If you're running errands, leave your dog home -- in a cool basement, or in a shaded yard with a wading pool. If you're traveling, make your pit stops at places where your pet can get out of the vehicle.
  • Provide fresh, cool drinking water at all times -- including in your vehicle when you're traveling.
  • Outdoor kennels must be well-ventilated and shaded, with water in bowls that will not tip.
  • Don't exercise pets on hot days or warm, humid nights.
  • Groom your pet. Clip long coats to about an inch -- shorter clips or shaving can leave dogs vulnerable to sunburn. Brush cats daily in hot weather, when they shed profusely, to help keep them comfortable by preventing hairballs. Good grooming can prevent summer skin problems, too.

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