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Extra special care needs to be taken to protect your pet from the elements during the cold winter months. Below are some things to consider in the care of your pet.


In spite of their thick fur, dogs and cats exposed to freezing or subfreezing temperatures for extended periods of time run the possibility of frostbite. Frostbite is damage to skin and other tissues due to extreme cold. Therefore, it’s very important to limit the amount of time that your pet spends outside when the weather is severe. Although frostbite isn’t usually a life-threatening condition in and of itself, it can lead to scarring, infection, and in a worse case scenario, the need for amputation of the affected areas. Frostbite in many situations also proceeds hypothermia (low body temperature), which is extremely dangerous. Frostbite and hypothermia can also occur through submersion in a cold body of water.

Frostbite most commonly affects the tips of the ears, the tail, the scrotum and the paws (especially the toes). When your pet becomes cold, the body reduces blood flow to the extremities in order to conserve core body temperature for his main internal organs. This makes these areas particularly vulnerable to frostbite. If the tissues freeze, it will cause severe tissue injury.

Frostbitten skin may appear very pale or bluish gray due to the lack of blood flow. The skin may be hard and cold, and ice may also form around the affected area. When the body part warms and thaws, it will turn red and be accompanied by swelling. Thawing is painful. If the frostbite is severe, the tissue may turn black and peel.

If you suspect that your dog or cat has frostbite, contact your veterinarian immediately. To keep your pet warm while traveling to the veterinarian, you may wrap your dog or cat in towels warmed for a few minutes in the clothes dryer. Do not rub or massage the affected areas, or heat with a hair dryer or heating pad. This may cause further tissue damage. Your veterinarian will examine your pet to assess the extent of the injury, although it may take several days to determine the total tissue damage. Pain relief medication and antibiotics may be prescribed. If the frostbite is severe, it may be necessary to amputate the affected area.

Frostbite poses a significant wintertime hazard to all pets, and can be prevented by avoiding prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.


Hypothermia is a potentially dangerous drop in a pet’s body temperature caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, wet fur and skin, or submersion in cold water for an extended period of time. If sustained, this may lead to several complications, including coma and death.

Signs of hypothermia include intense shivering, slow and shallow respiration, and a slower heart rate. Their gums may appear pale or blue. Signs of frostbite may also be present. If they are not warmed, they will become lethargic and will eventually be unresponsive and possibly die. If you suspect that your dog or cat has hypothermia, seek veterinary care immediately. To keep your pet warm during transport to your veterinarian, wrap your pet in towels warmed for a few minutes in the clothes dryer.

Pets with hypothermia should be warmed slowly. Severely hypothermic animals may need intravenous fluids, oxygen, or warm fluids administered into the stomach, colon or abdominal cavity in order to warm the body core.

Hypothermia, like frostbite, can be prevented by avoiding extended exposure to cold temperatures.

Caring for your pet’s paws

Winter can be a difficult time to keep your pet’s paws and pads healthy. The deicing salt used to melt ice on driveways, sidewalks and roads are especially hard on their pads, and prolonged contact can lead to chemical burns on their paws. Whenever possible, try to keep your pet off the salty roads and sidewalk. You might want to consider purchasing some pet safe ice melter for use around your own home.

Another concern with with these deicers is the threat of ingestion if they lick their paws. To prevent your dog from ingesting deicing salts, keep a bowl of warm water and a towel near the door to your home so that you can wipe off your dog’s paws when coming back inside.

Another common problem of sore paws during the winter months is the snow and ice that collects between your dog’s pads and toes. To keep the ice and snow balls to a minimum, enlist the help of your professional groomer to keep your dog’s pads and feet trimmed short throughout the winter. To prevent your dog’s paws from cracking and bleeding, you can apply an ointment, such as Bag Balm, to their pads and paws.

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