Whenever the temperature falls below freezing, your pets are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia. Some animals tolerate cold weather better than others. For example, dogs who have long hair or a thick undercoat fare better in cold than cats and small dogs with short-haired coats do. The best place for cats and dogs in winter is indoors, but proper precautions can help keep your pets safe during bitter cold.
If your cat or dog is an outside-only animal, it's vital to provide adequate warm shelter, heat and a non-frozen water supply during cold weather. Make sure your animals have sheltered areas with warm bedding materials, and consider giving them a hot water bottle wrapped in towels. Elevate shelter areas to keep them off the ground, where the cold could seep in. Although these measures will help protect your pets against cold and inclement weather, giving your pets access to a warm indoor space is the safest and best form of protection.
Dogs and cats can suffer from hypothermia or frostbite if they're exposed to below-freezing conditions for extended periods of time. This is especially serious for elderly dogs and cats, and for animals whose pre-existing health conditions make them more susceptible to cold weather temperatures. Other dangers to watch for include dogs burrowing for warmth and getting stuck in snowdrifts or make-shift shelters, and cats seeking out areas of warmth, particularly car engine compartments. This can be deadly if the cat is asleep on an engine when the driver starts the car.
Monitor how long your pet is outside. In particularly harsh weather conditions, such as sleet or snow, stay out with them. Your own comfort level is a good indication of your pet’s comfort level. Once you've become too cold to stay outside, chances are your pet’s temperature has dropped as well. Put doggie boots on dogs -- and on cats if they'll let you -- to protect against ice and snow-dissolving chemicals, and to help them retain body heat.
The effects of prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures isn’t always easy to identify in a dog or cat until damage has been done. If your pet was exposed to freezing temperatures and is shivering uncontrollably, or if he has visible ice crystals on his fur, warm him up gradually with blankets or wrapped hot water bottles. Seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible to assess damage and hasten recovery.
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