Winter comes with plenty of potential perils for your pet, from falling through ice on a frozen pond to being poisoned by rock salt or antifreeze. Follow our top tips to keep your pet fit and healthy throughout this colder period.
Many of the winter poisoning issues can be reduced by ensuring your pet remains well hydrated, meaning they are less likely to be tempted by puddles that could contain antifreeze. Dehydration can occur anytime of the year.
Antifreeze is great for car owners to keep their motors running when the temperature plummets, but it is potentially fatal if ingested by dogs.
Prevent your pet from drinking from roadside puddles as these are often contaminated with antifreeze. Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is sweet and therefore very appealing to dogs. There is an antidote (IV ethanol), but it must be given very quickly following ingestion otherwise the effects are likely to be fatal. Unfortunately antifreeze is an extremely common fatal poison.
Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning:
- Drunken behaviour
- Excessive urination
- Shaking and tremors
If you suspect your pet has drunk some antifreeze, it is important to get them to the vet asap. Never wait for symptoms, get them seen, just in case.
Rock salt is a mixture of salt (sodium chloride) and grit used to prevent roads becoming icy during the winter. Rock salt poisoning usually occurs in pets such as dogs and cats when they lick it from their paws or fur when they return home from being outside.
Eating rock salt results in a high blood sodium concentration. This can cause thirst, vomiting and lethargy, and in severe cases, convulsions and kidney damage. Seek veterinary advice immediately.
Wipe their paws before they come inside to remove any salt or antifreeze residue and prevent them licking this off their paws. This will also help warm their paws.
Increased Risk of Burns
When it is freezing outside your pets – especially cats – seek warm spots to snooze in your house, such as radiators, open fires or wood burning stoves. However, these spots can pose burn risks for pets who are unaware of exactly how hot these heat sources can get. During the cold winter months restrict access to these heat sources to prevent your pets burning themselves.
Think about their Paws
Imagine how we would feel walking barefoot through the snow. Dog’s lose heat through their paws and can find snow and ice extremely uncomfortable.
Snow: In snowy weather, check your dog’s paws and dry them when they come in from the snow. Snow can compact between their toes and turn into ice balls which causes your pet pain. Remove these balls and trim the hair between your dog’s toes to reduce this happening.
Cracked Paws: For cracked paw pads, use a pet moisturiser to soothe your dog’s skin. You might need to distract your pet with a treat, so they aren’t tempted to lick it off immediately.
Booties: To prevent cracked pads in winter, try putting your dog in booties.
Clean routine: Always thoroughly clean and dry their paws after every walk.
Dogs can suffer from dry skin conditions just as we can. Take extra care of their skin during the cold winter months to prevent discomfort. Don’t cut out baths altogether during the colder months, but do decrease the number of baths your pet takes to prevent their skin from drying out. You could also invest in an extra moisturising pet shampoo.
The Cold War
If your dog is shivering and seems cold, cover them with a towel or blanket. You can use a gentle heat source such as a hair dryer on a lowest setting, but avoid heating their paw pads, as they could burn. If they are very cold you could use a wheat bag (warm not hot), but be extremely careful with these (click here to read our article on the dangers of wheat bags and how to use them correctly). Always check the temperature against your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot.
Consider a coat
Have a good look at the thickness of your dog’s fur and consider their age too. Puppies and mature dogs have more difficulty regulating their temperature and may require extra support. Fine-coated dogs such as Greyhounds may require a dog coat when they go outside.
If you pet has arthritis, it may be more painful for them in winter.
Keep them warm
If your dog gets cold easily, invest in dog coats, jumpers and booties but remember though even a cosy coat can’t prevent frostbite on the feet, tails or ears.
Good to know: as a general rule if it is too cold for you in your winter coat, it is too cold for your dog.
Frostbite happens when the dog’s body gets cold and draws the blood from the extremities, such as the paws, tail or the ears, to the centre of the body to stay warm. In extreme cases the dog’s extremities become so cold ice crystals form in the tissue and damage it. When frostbitten areas warm up again, they can cause severe pain.
The problem with frostbite is it’s not immediately obvious. Stay vigilant for signs of pale or grey skin that is also hard and cold. If you are worried seek urgent advice from your vet.
Keep a dog blanket in the car for a quick warm up and a towel to dry them.
Just as you should never leave a dog alone in a car in the hot summer, you should never leave a dog alone in a car in winter. Freezing cold temperatures are equally as dangerous for him.
Leaving the car engine running while you clear snow etc could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning if you have a blocked exhaust.
There is no reason not to continue exercising in winter. If conditions are particularly icy and cold you may want to reduce outdoor exercise. However as long as your dog is gradually introduced to the cold weather and is well adjusted to it, its good for them to get outside. Dry your dog thoroughly after they have been outside and ensure their feet are clean and dry too.
If your dog is reluctant to go outside in the cold, keep them active and engaged indoors. Adjust their calorie intake if they are slightly less active to avoid them becoming overweight.
Take the lead
Walking your dog in the winter months is harder and riskier than in summer. It is a good idea to keep your dog on a lead when near ponds during the icy months. It is all too common for dogs to fall through thin ice or a partially frozen pond and get into difficulties. They may also be tempted to jump into an icy river.
It is vital that your pet has good recall so they don’t get lost in the dark.
Make sure that your pet is clearly visible in dark, foggy or snowy conditions. Attach a small light to their lead or pop them in a reflective coat to make it easier for drivers and pedestrians to see them.
Dehydration can affect your pet at any time of year. It is absolutely vital to make sure your pet has sufficient fresh water available to them at all times, both at home and when out and about.
Come and join one of our practical or online first aid courses to learn more about how you can help keep your pet well this winter.
Written by Emma Hammett of First Aid for Pets
Practical and online dog first aid courses tailored to your needs
First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.