We're fortunate to enjoy famously mild summers here in the Pacific Northwest. Our winters are wet... but don't often dip into dangerously low temperatures. When extreme weather arrives, it's important to know how to keep your pet safe and happy.
When the weather turns cold, consider the following to keep animals safe:
Keep Pets Sheltered
Even if your pet is accustomed to being outside, it's important to keep them inside when the cold weather arrives. A good rule of thumb: if it's too cold outside for you to be comfortable, it's too cold for your pet.
If it's not possible to keep your pet indoors at all times, make sure you provide a warm, covered (preferably insulated) shelter for them. These spaces should be large enough for them to enter and exit comfortably, but small enough to hold in body heat. For most pets, an elevated shelter can help keep them warm. This space should have straw or wood shavings to help insulate the space, and a door covered by a heavy plastic flap that allows easy access, but prevents drafts from blowing in.
Blustery days can make the air feel much colder than it is. Make sure your pet has adequate protection when heading outside for a walk or a bathroom break. Exposed skin on noses, ears, and paws can be vulnerable to frostbite. Providing protective items like jackets, sweaters, and booties can help your pet safely enjoy time outside.
If boots aren't practical, make sure to wipe your pet's paws when they come inside to remove any rock salt, snow-melt, and other chemicals that may be on your pet's feet.
Watch out for common substances that can be harmful or fatal to your pet!
Anifreeze. This liquid has a sweet taste that can be tempting to pets (and even children). If you encounter an antifreeze spill, wipe it up immediately and keep it, like all chemicals, out of reach. If you must you antifreeze, select a brand with propylene glycol which is less toxic to pets, wildlife and family.
Salt Poisoning. Dogs are at particular risk of salt poisoning in winter. Rock salt, often used to melt snow and ice on sidewalks, can become stuck to dog's paws and may be licked away after a walk. Make sure to wipe your dog's paws when returning from a walk. If your dog ingests rock salt or other snow-melt chemicals, call your veterinarian immediately.
Shelter for Community Cats
Not all pets are indoor pets. If you have community or feral cats in your neighborhood, don't forget that they need protection from the cold weather, too.
You can make a basic shelter for an outdoor cat with a plastic tub and some household items. Learn more about making one of these shelters with these tips from ASPCA.
Cars can be a deadly hazard for small animals - including cats. Warm engines can be very tempting for animals seeking shelter from a cold day. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, always bang on the hood of your car before starting your engine. This will scare off any animals who may have been drawn to the heat of your car.
If you see an animal without adequate shelter in cold weather, let the owner know you're concerned. A polite reminder can help a pet owner understand that their pet may be uncomfortable - many owners may not realize the dangers of cold weather.
If you see a pet in crisis: Call your local Animal Control agency.
Here are some important things to consider when the mercury climbs:
Animals in Distress
If you encounter an animal in immediate distress, act quickly. Provide a shady space and cool water. If practical, bring the animal inside to an air-conditioned or cool space. In a residential area, knock on doors to see if anyone recognizes the animal - they may be able to help you get the animal back home. In non-residential areas, contact local businesses or offices to find a cool and safe space for the animal and contact your local animal control agency.
In any instance, if an animal is in distress and you suspect heatstroke, take the animal to the nearest vet if possible.
Heatstroke in Pets
Extreme temperatures can cause heatstroke - even light activity can cause your pet to overheat.
Signs of heatstroke include: heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure, collapse and unconsciousness.
Animals are at particular risk for heat stroke if they are: very old or very young, overweight and/or not conditioned to prolonged exercise, have heart or respiratory disease. Additionally, some breeds of dogs and cats (boxer, pug, shih tzu, Persian cats, and other breeds with short muzzles) will have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat.
If you suspect heatstroke in your pet:
- Immediately move your pet into the shade or an air-conditioned area.
- Apply cool water-soaked towels to the head, neck, and chest. Offer cool water to drink.
- Avoid shock - never use ice or ice-cold water to cool down an overheated dog.
- Take your pet directly to a veterinarian.
Pets in Cars
On an 85° day, your car can heat up to over 120° in 20 minutes. Never leave your pet in the car on a hot day. Contrary to some assumptions, cracked windows and parking in the shade don't provide measurable relief. On a hot day, it's always safest to leave your pet at home.
If you see a pet in a hot car: Write down the details of the vehicle - make, model, and license plate number. Act quickly! Call 911 or your local Animal Control agency. If there are businesses nearby, ask them to announce to their patrons to help find the owner.
What's the Law? In Washington State, police, law enforcement, and animal control agencies are protected from civil liability, civilians are not. If you break into a car to save an animal, you could face legal or financial penalties for the damage to the vehicle. Also consider that a dog in a vehicle may not react well to the intrusion and you could be injured.
Leave Your Pet at Home
The best place for your pet on a hot day is at home. Make sure you have a cool, indoor space for your pet and set out extra water to keep them hydrated. If your home isn't cool enough for your pet, consider asking a friend or neighbor with air conditioning, make a reservation at your local doggie daycare, or contact your veterinarian for local cooling shelters in your area.
For temporary relief at home, make a cool treat for your pet! While they're not a substitute for a safe and cool place, freezing a mix of wet-food and canned pumpkin in ice-cube trays can make for a fun and cool treat for your pup! They're great for a post-walk snack or a cooling treat in the afternoon.
Staying Cool Outside
Be sure to closely monitor outside time and limit activities like running and playing to the morning or late-evening hours when it's cooler. Make sure to take water with you on walks and consider using a misting hose or kiddie-pools for pets who enjoy playing in water. Never leave your pets unattended outside.
It's best to provide a cool, indoor space for your outdoor pets during hot weather. If that's not possible, check on them often and make sure they have a shaded space and lots of cool water.
If you take your dog for a walk, do it early in the morning or late in the evening when the temperatures are lower. Take short walks and always carry water to keep your dog hydrated. When possible, walk your dog on grass or dirt and avoid pavement, sidewalks and even sand - the sun can quickly heat up these surfaces. Remember: if it's too hot for your bare hand or foot, it's too hot for your dog's feet.
Signs of burned pads can include: limping, licking or chewing pads and paws, discoloration of pads, blisters, redness or missing skin. If you see any of these signs, immediately flush the area gently with cool, clean water.
Caring for burned pads: Immediately contact your veterinarian if your pet's pads are damaged by a hot surface. Keep the dog from licking the wounds. For minor burns or blistering apply an antibacterial ointment and wrap the affected area with a loose bandage. Serious burns require immediate medical attention, take your dog to your local veterinarian or emergency pet hospital.