We’re lucky to enjoy fairly mild winters here in Arizona, but as a pet owner, you should prepare your four-legged friend for the cold. Pets face unique hazards when winter weather settles in. To help you learn to keep your pet safe when the temperature drops, our Premier Pet Hospital team answers your common cold weather safety questions. 

Question: Does my pet need a coat?

Answer: When winter temperatures dip, you dig out your warmest jacket. However, whether your pet should also wear winter gear depends on their individual characteristics. Some people assume their pet’s coat provides enough insulation to keep them warm, but many factors influence your four-legged friend’s cold tolerance, including:

  • Body size — Smaller pets tend to lose heat more quickly than larger pets.
  • Coat density — Double-coated dog breeds (e.g., Siberian husky, German shepherd dog) retain heat better than single-coated breeds (e.g., pit bull and Boston terriers), or dogs with little to no hair (e.g. Chinese crested, Xoloitzcuintli). Dog breeds who have curly coats have slightly more insulation.
  • Coat color — Light colors reflect heat, and pets with darker coats absorb more heat from sunlight, staying warmer.
  • Age — Puppies and senior dogs cannot regulate their body temperature as well as robust adult dogs. 
  • Health status — Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, kidney failure, Cushing’s disease, or hypothyroidism, can cause a pet to be more susceptible to cold temperatures.

If your pet has a low tolerance for cold, consider dressing them in a warm winter jacket before heading outside. 

Q: Can pets get hypothermia?

A: Thick coat or not, all pets are susceptible to developing frostbite or hypothermia if they spend too long out in freezing weather. Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that occurs when your pet’s body temperature drops below 100 degrees. A pet’s body temperature is much higher than a human’s, ranging from 100 degrees to 102.5 degrees. Ensure you limit your pet’s cold temperature exposure, and keep them indoors as much as possible when temperatures drop. Puppies, kittens, smaller pets, and senior pets are most susceptible to cold weather exposure. In addition, pets with chronic health problems, such as kidney or heart disease, have an increased hypothermia risk. Monitor your pet for the following hypothermia signs:

  • Rectal temperature below 98 degrees
  • Shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Shallow or labored breathing 
  • Low heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Decreased appetite

Q: How can I protect my pet’s paws from the cold?

A: Winter weather can be hard on your pet’s paws. Snow and ice can dry out your pet’s paw pads, leaving their skin chapped or cracked, and can even lead to frostbite. In addition, common rock salt and ice melting products can burn and irritate your pet’s paw pads, and—if ingested when your pet licks or chews on their feet—these products can poison your four-legged friend. To protect your pet’s paw pads after walking on treated pavements, wipe their feet with a damp cloth to remove any accumulated salt, ice melt, or debris, and discourage your pet from licking or chewing their feet. If your pet has ice balls or snow packed between their toes or in their fur, use a hair dryer on low heat to accelerate the melting process. Protective footwear can protect your pet’s paw pads from harsh chemicals and prevent cold weather injury, including dryness, cracking, or abrasions from rough ice patches.

Q: Is it safe to leave my unattended pet in a vehicle during the winter?

A: Most people recognize that leaving their pet unattended in a vehicle when the weather is hot is deadly. Cold weather can be equally dangerous. Vehicles have little insulation and do not protect your pet from frigid temperatures. An unattended pet left in a vehicle can quickly develop hypothermia. No matter the temperature, the safest choice is to leave your pet at home when running errands that require them to wait unattended in a vehicle.

Q: Why is antifreeze dangerous for pets?

A: Antifreeze’s active ingredient—ethylene glycol—is a sweet-tasting, odorless liquid many people use to winterize their cars and homes. Pets find this poison’s sweet flavor difficult to resist. If your dog or cat ingests a small amount of antifreeze, they can develop acute (i.e., sudden) kidney failure, and without rapid and aggressive veterinary treatment, ethylene glycol toxicity is 100% fatal.

Enjoy winter’s bracing temperatures knowing your pet is safe when you take these simple precautions to protect them from the chill. For more cold weather safety tips and all your veterinary care needs, schedule an appointment with our Premier Pet Hospital team.