Q I’m concerned about my pets being out in the cold weather. Is there anything I should be especially aware of during the winter months?

—Carol, Palmyra

A Winter is here, along with cold temperatures, snow, ice and sometimes dangerous wind chills.
Although at risk from the cold, cats are less likely to be affected. They seem to hibernate during the winter, content to sleep and eat most of the time and going outdoors for only short periods. If they are kept outside too long, they can suffer the risks of cold weather, including hypothermia and frost bite.

Perhaps the bigger risk this time of year is exposure to antifreeze. Both cats and dogs like the taste of antifreeze, but it is unfortunately highly toxic to both. Although it can affect the nervous system, the main concern of antifreeze ingestion is kidney failure, which can occur within 24 hours. Of much less concern now than when radiator fan blades were uncovered, is cats being attracted to the warmth of an engine block and then becoming entrapped in the radiator fan blades when the owner started the car. It is recommended, if you have an uncovered radiator fan, to hit the hood to warn any cat sleeping on the warm engine.  

Hypothermia, or low body temperature, and its effects, is a bigger risk for dogs; especially those dogs housed outdoors. As the weather turns cold and days shorten, dogs will put on an extra layer of protection by putting on fat and increasing their hair coat thickness. However, if temperatures are low, the wind chill a factor, and especially if your dog is wet, any exposure to this kind of environment can diminish the dog’s ability to stay warm.

Shivering is a sign that your dog’s body temperature is dropping. If this occurs, your dog should be brought into a warm environment that will allow a slow warm-up. Prolonged exposure to cold can cause frostbite, especially to the tip of the tail as well as the ear tips. Again, if exposure has not been too long resulting in permanent tissue damage, slow warming should stop any damage to these areas from the cold.  

A dog house that is too large, not insulated, not protected from the elements or does not have sufficient bedding increases the risk of cold exposure and subsequent hypothermia. An adequate dog house also protects your dog from the heat of the summer when hyperthermia can occur.  

To keep warm, dogs will need additional calories during this time of year. An additional 15 to 30 percent more calories should be added into your dog’s daily diet. Calories from fats or carbohydrates should be avoided.

Additional protection against the cold can be in the form of specially designed winter coats and boots. Boots are very helpful when dealing with melting salts, as these can be toxic to pets. If you walk your dog without boots, wash his or her paws when coming in. This will also help with “snowballs” that develop between their toes. For your own sidewalks and steps, use a pet-safe deicer.  

Cold weather can be especially hard on dogs suffering from arthritis. Minimal exposure to the cold, use of a soft orthopedic bed, and proper house temperature can make these achy canines feel more comfortable.

Do you have a pet care question for Dr. Silberg? Send your question by e-mail to askdrsilberg@yahoo.com.