Pets in Cold Weather

We’ve definitely been cooling off here in northeast Ohio and it’s the time of year that we have to be sure our dogs and cats aren’t exposed the cold outdoor temperatures for too long.

Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, for instance, can and often want to stay outside in very cold temperatures for hours. Our owners of these breeds often complain that they can’t get their dogs to come inside when it’s freezing outside! Boxers and Vislas, on the other hand, have very short coats and cannot tolerate cold temperatures for long periods of time.

It is impossible to set up a chart to help determine how long a particular dog or cat can stay out in a particular temperature. There are many factors that impact how warm a dog or cat can stay in the elements. The two major factors are coat type and body mass, though activity level also plays a role. And there is no hard-and-fast rule to know how long of a walk in the snow you can take or how long to let them run outside in the yard while it’s below freezing.

Two items that help retain body heat are boots and coats. For the dogs that tolerate boots, these are great, especially for the long hikes. These will prevent heat from being lost between the pads of the feet and will also prevent splitting of the pads secondary to the constant contact with snow and ice. For the shorter coated dogs, the horse blanket style jackets as well as dog sweaters help to hold their own heat in nicely.

Ultimately, we’re concerned less about the dog that goes outside in the snow for an exercise with their owner and we’re more concerned about the cat or dog that is left outside for hours at a time, particularly in the evening hours. These animals are more likely to lose body heat and not be able to find heat sources to prevent loss of vital degrees. These animals are at risk for hypothermia.

Hypothermia, or less than normal body temperature, becomes worrisome when a dog’s or cat’s body temperature decreases to 94º F (34.4º C) because at this point no amount of shivering is going to restore their body temperature. When they get this cold, they need the help of blankets and external heat sources to return them to a healthy temperature. Sometimes blankets and heaters aren’t enough, and these pets need warmed intravenous fluids to increase their core body temperature.

The one idea that we’d like to communicate with regard to the idea of hypothermia is this: hypothermia is a big deal, and it is not always straightforward to correct. The trouble with hypothermia is the list of complications that comes with it: reduced metabolic rate, reduced heart rate, compromised immune system, etc. All of these set up a vicious cycle for the affected cat or dog, making recovery difficult.

The best way to think about hypothermia is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. But if your pet is left outside for an extended period of time, seek the attention of a veterinarian (such as the ones found at 330-929-3223) so that the body temperature can be corrected in a safe, effective manner.

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