With temperatures getting lower and the snow getting higher, there are a few things to watch for to keep your pet happy and healthy this winter. Avoiding prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures is ideal for most pets. If left outside for long periods of time, frostbite and hypothermia may occur. Frostbite is a serious problem during winter, especially for paws, tips of tails, and ears. Frostbite is indicated by the skin becoming very pale and attaining a bluish/white hue due to a lack of blood flow. Ice may also form around the affected area. When the body part is warmed and blood flow returns, the skin becomes red and there is swelling accompanied with peeling, or even sloughing of the body part entirely.
Fur coats are nice for keeping warm but may not be enough. Dog coats, sweaters, boots, and other accessories may help breeds with thinner fur and those less acclimated to cold weather.
No matter how you feel about stray and feral cats, they still need warm, dry, well-insulated and appropriately-sized shelters if outdoors. A shelter must trap the cats’ body heat to warm its interior. If the shelter is too large, it will be difficult for the cats’ body heat to keep the space warm. Straw insulation allows cats to burrow. Pillowcases loosely stuffed with packing peanuts and shredded newspaper also work to keep cats warm. Replace straw and newspaper if moist or dirty, and wash and re-stuff pillowcases as needed. However, if it’s really cold where you live and you can’t check on the shelters regularly, don’t use the above insulation. Instead, “wallpaper” the shelter’s inner walls and floor with Mylar. It reflects back body heat, and it’s okay for cats to lie on it. Another option is putting a cooler inside a tote, surrounded by straw for insulation.
Some signs of hypothermia can include violent shivering followed by listlessness, weak pulse, lethargy, muscle stiffness, lack of appetite, body temperature below 98°F in dogs, temperature below 100° F in cats, coma, and cardiac arrest.
Things you can do at home if you notice any of these signs include bringing your pet into a warm room, wrap your pet in a warm blanket or coat (you can warm blankets and coats in the dryer for a few minutes). As the areas warm, skin will redden. If skin becomes dark instead, seek immediate veterinary attention. It may take several days for evidence of dying tissue to become apparent, so inspect the affected areas at least once a day for darkening of the skin and seek veterinary care immediately. As the areas of frostbite heal, they will probably become uncomfortable or itchy to your cat or dog. It is important to keep your pet from licking, chewing, or scratching the area, so discuss with your veterinarian to determine if pain medication or other treatment is right for him/her.