Winter is here and with it comes the cold weather. While dogs and cats have fur coats that help provide protection from the elements, they are not immune to cold weather. The ability to tolerate cold weather depends on a number of factors including size, thickness of coat, age, general health, cold weather acclimation, and access to shelter.
In general it is easier for large dogs to stay warm than small dogs and cats. Small animals loose heat rapidly and can suffer from exposure, hypothermia, or frost bite in what might seem like mild to moderate conditions to us. Animals with short or thin fur coats have trouble staying warm as well. Jackets and sweaters can be helpful (and for some animals may be essential) in cold weather. Most pet stores carry a variety of styles and sizes. Booties to protect dog’s feet are available as well.
Be careful with older pets or animals with health problems. These pets will have a harder time staying warm and are much more likely to develop hypothermia. Older animals with arthritis tend to be stiff and have more trouble in cold weather as well.
Two important factors that are often overlooked are access to shelter and cold weather acclimation. If your pet is going to spend anytime outside, they should always have access to some type of shelter. A dog house, shed, or garage with clean bedding such as straw or blankets can mean the difference between life and death if for some reason they are left outside for an extended period during cold weather.
Animals that spend the majority of their time outside will develop cold weather acclimation. In fact, the physiology of the body changes to adapt to cold conditions. Animals that have adapted can tolerate cold weather much better than animals that have not adapted. Cold weather acclimation takes several weeks. Remember, just because your neighbor’s dog spends all day outside doesn’t mean that your dog won’t have problems with the weather if they spend most of their time inside.
Remember, be careful in cold weather. Make sure your pet is not outside for extended periods of time unless they are acclimated, have access to shelter, are healthy, and have a good fur coat or a jacket/sweater. If you notice that your pet is shivering it is time to bring them inside and warm up. If your pet has been outside for an extended period of time and you find that they are lethargic, sluggish, or confused they may be suffering from hypothermia. Wrap them up in a blanket and get them to the vet immediately. If you notice that they have developed reddened or white areas of skin they may have developed frost bite (ears are a common site), again get them somewhere warm and bring them in to the vet immediately for treatment.
Fortunately, most weather related problems can be avoided with good judgment and some basic preparation. If you need any advice or have questions please feel free to call Anchor Animal Hospital at 508-996-3731. If you are ever concerned that your pet is suffering from hypothermia or frostbite please bring them to Anchor Animal Hospital or the nearest veterinarian immediately.