This winter has been exceptionally harsh for many Americans – especially those living in the Deep South. It seems that the winter storms are getting worse and worse, with no end in sight. On top of being concerned about the state of your plumbing – you should also be aware of how the severe cold can affect our furry friends.
Many dogs enjoy playing in the snow but you need to pay careful attention to them, as the cold can have a negative effect on their health. Many dogs have a heavy fur coat to protect them when outdoors, but prolonged exposure can cause frostbite and/or hypothermia.
Hypothermia happens when the body’s temperature drops too low. Predisposing factors include short fur and wet fur and/or skin. Dogs that experience hypothermia will shiver and their tongue and gums may become pale in color. Some dogs become very lethargic and will stop shivering. Severe cases can undergo heart failure and coma. If you notice the signs of hypothermia, it is important to act quickly. Get your dog indoors and warm some blankets using a clothes or hair dryer. Warm water bottles are also a good idea, but be sure that they are not too hot and wrap them in a small towel. Don’t put a warm water bottle directly on the skin, as this can cause burns.
It is important to monitor your dog’s rectal temperature every 2-5 minutes. The normal temperature range for dogs is 99 – 101.4 degrees F (37.2 -38.5 C). If your dog’s rectal temperature stays below 98 degrees F (36.6 C) despite your efforts to warm him, contact your veterinarian.
If the temperatures are well below freezing, it is important to prevent hypothermia in the first place. If your dog lives outdoors, bring him indoors or have a heated area available for shelter. When exercising your pup, spend as little time outdoors as possible. Dogs with short fur will especially benefit from wearing boots or ‘dog coats’ that can be purchased at pet stores or online.
Another wintertime risk that people overlook is frostbite. Dogs generally have less protection from the elements on their noses, tip of the tail, toes and ears. Indoor and outdoor dogs are equally at risk. Signs of frostbite include blue-gray color paling of the skin. Skin that is very, very pale and no longer pink may also be frostbitten. When the frozen skin thaws, it will become very red, swollen and painful. Many dogs will begin to chew on the area or rub their nose tip on surfaces. Black skin and/or blisters will develop and are the ‘trademark’ of frostbite. Some areas of frostbite may require surgical removal, but sometimes you can prevent permanent damage. If you suspect frostbite, apply a warm, moist and soft compress to the area. It is important to not massage or rub the affected area. Call your veterinarian immediately for an examination. Severe cases may require amputation of the damaged tissue. Frostbite is also very painful, requiring pain medications during treatment.
Prevention of frostbite is similar to that of hypothermia. Spend as little time outdoors as possible during sub-freezing temperatures. Cover your dog’s feet with boots and even spread a little petroleum jelly on at-risk areas of the skin. Most of all, be smart in the cold weather. Bring your pets inside or provide a warm shelter where they can get out of the cold. Don’t forget about our furry feline friends! Outdoor cats are especially susceptible to frostbite on their ears and tail tips, as well as hypothermia. Bring your cats inside during cold weather or build a shelter for them. Clever methods of building cat shelters can be found online. Some popular methods include placing two different sized Styrofoam coolers one inside of the other. Fill the space between them with wheat straw. Line the smaller (inner) cooler with old blankets and/or a heavy layer of wheat straw. Cut a hole large enough for a cat to fit through in the side. Apply the top of the cooler and secure using sturdy tape. The insulation and body heat will help raise the temperature inside the shelter, potentially saving a life!