Exposure to winter’s dry, cold air and chilly rain, sleet, and snow can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin, but these aren’t the only discomforts pets can suffer. Winter walks can become downright dangerous if chemicals from ice-melting agents or antifreeze are licked off of bare paws. To help prevent cold weather dangers from affecting your pet’s health, please heed the following advice:
- Smaller breed dogs and cats have smaller body mass and surface area to mass ratio. They have a much harder time keeping warm than larger breed dogs.
- Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. If your dog is long-haired, simply trim him to minimize the clinging ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals that can dry his skin, and don’t neglect the hair between his toes. If your dog is short-haired, consider getting a coat or sweater with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
- After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt, and chemicals—and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes. Be on the lookout for obsessive licking and chewing at paws as this can lead to self-trauma and infections. You can also consider using Epsom salts in warm water to soak, clean, and soothe paws.
- Bathe your pets as little as possible during cold spells. Bathing can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If your pooch must be bathed, ask us to recommend a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse that contains aloe and oatmeal.
- Massaging vaseline or other paw protectants containing vaseline into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents. Booties provide even more coverage and can also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation. Use pet-friendly road salt and de-icers whenever possible.
- Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
- Cats can often seek out warmth and crawl up into car engines. Bang on your hood and check before starting your vehicle. Providing outdoor shelters for your own cat, neighbours’ cats, or even feral or stray cats can be quite helpful.
- Pets burn extra energy by trying to stay warm in the wintertime. Feeding your pet a little bit more during the cold weather months can provide much-needed calories, and making sure he/she has plenty of water to drink will help keep her well-hydrated and her skin less dry.
- Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.
- Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside. If left outdoors, pets can become hypothermic, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed. They can also suffer from frostbite injury – particularly at the tips of ears, tails, and feet. This includes outdoor cats. In addition, don’t leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, as cars can act as refrigerators that hold in the cold and cause animals to freeze to death.
If you have any questions about winter safety or any other concerns about your pet, please feel free to call Byron Animal Clinic at 519-472-3770.