10 Seasonal Dangers for Outdoor Pets
Take Safe Measures to Prevent Winter Hazards
Warning to pet owners: The winter climate can make for some very chilly critters.
Health conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and hormonal imbalances can compromise your pet’s ability to regulate his or her body heat.
Pets who are not generally in good health shouldn't be exposed to winter conditions for an extended length of time. Here are 10 of the most common winter hazards to outdoor pets.
1. Inadequate Shelter
If your pet lives predominantly outdoors, make sure to provide a draft-free, weatherproof shelter that will stay dry and isn’t so large that it will not retain enough heat to keep your pet warm. It is also a good idea to position your pet’s house in the opposite direction of the wind, including the shelter door opening. This will help retain warmer conditions inside. Even pets who are used to living outdoors should be brought inside once the temperature gets below freezing.
2. Poor Bedding
An outdoor shelter needs thick bedding to help keep your pet warm. If you use straw as a base for bedding, make sure it is kept clean and dry to prevent the invasions of bugs and parasites. Pet-safe heating pads are also available for outdoor shelters.
3. Lack of Drinking Water
In particularly cold climates, water can freeze over quickly, including your pet’s water bowl. Pets without access to clean water may resort to drinking out of puddles which can contain a variety of toxic chemicals, including antifreeze, oil and cleaners.
Pets may become exposed to antifreeze if it’s leaking from a car radiator onto a garage floor, driveway or the street. This sweet-tasting poison is appealing to animals and ingestion of a very small amount can lead to rapid kidney failure and death within a very short period of time. Immediate veterinary care is necessary to prevent the toxin from being absorbed into your pet’s liver.
Hypothermia occurs when your pet’s body temperature falls below normal. Pets who spend a sustained amount of time outdoors, especially those in poor health, are most commonly affected. Symptoms include shivering and signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As the condition progresses, a pet’s muscles will stiffen, heart and breathing rates will decrease and response to stimuli will stop. If you notice these symptoms, you need to get your pet warm and take her to your veterinarian. You can wrap her in blankets, possibly with a hot water bottle or electric blanket — as always, wrapped in fabric to prevent burning the skin. In severe cases, your veterinarian can monitor her heart rate and blood pressure and give warm fluids through an IV.
Your pet’s ears, paws and tail can rapidly develop frostbite when exposed to winter conditions. Frostbite occurs when your pet’s body gets cold and blood from the extremities is pulled to the center of the body in an attempt to retain warmth. Ice crystals form, damaging the tissue. Frostbite is not immediately noticeable: tissue damage typically appears several days later. Take preventive measures and check your pet’s extremities daily. Soaking the extremities in warm water or applying a warm compress can help prevent frostbite from occurring. If you suspect frostbite, don’t try to remove the ice crystals; take your pet to your veterinarian immediately.
Sunburn doesn’t just happen during the summer. Extended exposure during winter months, with the sun reflecting off icy patches and snow, can also cause damage to your pets. Sunburn is common on body areas not protected by fur or dark skin such as the nose, tips of the ears and underbelly, and may lead to skin cancer. Consult your veterinarian regarding sunscreen; a light application on exposed skin may help prevent both sunburn and skin cancer, especially in pets with light fur and pale pigmentation.
8. Frozen Ponds or Lakes
If you live near a pond or lake, be very cautious about letting your pets have open access as they can easily fall though the ice and potentially drown. It is very difficult for pets to escape on their own and if unsupervised, can fall victim to hypothermia and frostbite.
9. Sharp Objects Under Snow
Dangerous objects such as glass, sharp rocks or discarded trash that can cause lacerations can be easily hidden under the snow or salt on roads and walk ways. Your pet can step on these and harm himself, or ingest one of these objects and be subjected to foreign body ingestion or toxic poisoning.
10. Ice-Melting Chemicals and Salt
Ice-melting chemicals and salt placed across sidewalks and roads can cause severe burning to your dog's footpads. Whenever possible, avoid exposing your pet to these substances, and wash his paws if you suspect contamination. Products such as Musher's Secret can be applied to your dog's footpads prior to going outside and may help reduce the pain that is often caused by road salt and chemicals. You may also consider buying a set of pet-safe booties that your dog can wear when outside.
If your pet lives outdoors or will be spending longer periods of time outside, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a checkup. This routine examination can identify any medical conditions that may make your pet more vulnerable to these seasonal dangers.