We're fortunate to enjoy famously mild summers here in the Pacific Northwest. And our winters may be wet... but don't often dip into dangerously low temperatures. But when extreme weather arrives, it's important to know how to keep your pet safe and happy.
Cold Weather Safety
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.
When caring for community cats, it’s important to keep them in mind when winter weather approaches. However, it’s also important to remember that community cats are extremely resourceful. But there are some ways you can make the season a little safer and warmer for these resilient outdoor felines.
Click for more information about cold weather safety for community cats.
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.
Hot Weather Safety
Hot weather can be dangerous for pets. It's important to make sure you know how to keep your pet safe when the mercury climbs.
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.
Pets in Cars
On an 85° day, your car can heat up to over 120° in 30 minutes. Never leave your pet in the car on a hot day. Pets in carriers can still overheat in an air conditioned car. 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. If there are businesses nearby, ask them to announce to their patrons to help find the owner. If that doesn't work, call 311 or your local Animal Control agency. If the animal is in immediate distress (excessive panting, dark or purple tongue, lethargic or unresponsive, anxious behavior or attempting to escape the vehicle, loss of bowels) call 911.
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.
Heatstroke in Pets
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.
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.
Extreme temperatures can cause heatstroke - even light activity can cause your pet to overheat. 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.
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. If necessary, 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.
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. Provide a larger bowl of water than usual, or multiple bowls to ensure your pet has enough water throughout the day. If your home isn't cool enough for your pet, consider asking a friend or neighbor with air conditioning to give them breaks, make a reservation at your local doggie daycare, or seek out local cooling shelters in your area.
If your pet needs to spend time outside, monitor them closely and limit activities like running and playing. To keep your pet safe, consider the following options:
- Limit playtime to the morning or late-evening hours when it's cooler.
- If your pet needs walks, go out in the morning and evening and take water with you.
- Consider using a misting hose or kiddie-pools for pets who enjoy playing in water.
- Never leave your pets unattended outside.
While inside, provide a cool space for your pet to escape the heat. Of course, air conditioning will provide the best relief. If you don't have AC, you can still make a difference.
- Make a cool treat for your pet! Freezing a mix of pet-safe treats like wet-food, canned pumpkin, and other treats in ice-cube trays can make for a great post-walk snack or a cooling treat.
- Fans don't help. Humans are cooled by fans, but they don't make much of a difference for our furry friends.
- Closing the blinds and curtains will help keep your space from warming up from the sun. This can make a big difference for your pets.
- Use a cooling wrap or vest for your pet. If they don't mind taking baths, a cooling soak can offer relief.
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.
Flat-Faced, Elderly, Overweight, and Ill Pets
Animals with flat faces, like pugs, bulldogs, and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. Owners of flat-faced breeds (boxer, pug, shih tzu, Persian cats, and other breeds with short muzzles) should take extra care to keep their pet cool and limit exercise during hot weather.
Additionally, pets who are elderly, overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.