Pet Winter Safety (cont.)

Pet Winter Safety: Know the Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite

When cats and dogs are exposed to the cold for too long, their body temperature -- which is usually between 101°F and 102.5°F -- can drop fatally. Here's what you need to know as you keep a close eye on your pets in winter.

Hypothermia Symptoms in Dogs and Cats

  • violent shivering, followed by listlessness
  • weak pulse
  • lethargy
  • muscle stiffness
  • problems breathing
  • lack of appetite
  • rectal temperature below 98°F
  • coma
  • cardiac arrest

Hypothermia Treatment

Wrap your pet in a warm blanket or coat (you can warm blankets and coats in the dryer for a few minutes).

  • Bring your pet into a warm room.
  • Give your pet a solution of four teaspoons honey or sugar dissolved in warm water to drink. You can also put 1-2 teaspoons of corn syrup on the gums if your pet is too weak to drink. This provides an immediate energy boost.
  • Place warm, towel-wrapped water bottles against your pet's abdomen or at her armpits and chest, then wrap her in a blanket. Do not use hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets to warm up a hypothermic pet as this may result in burns or cause surface blood vessels to dilate, which compromises circulation to vital organs.
  • Call your veterinarian immediately.

The best way to manage hypothermia is to avoid it. Always provide warm, dry shelter for pets when they're outdoors.

Frostbite Signs in Dogs and Cats

Frostbite happens when a part of your pet's body freezes. For cats, that may involve the paws, tail, or ears; for dogs, the tail, ears, foot pads, or scrotum. Severe winter weather, especially when windy or humid, can lead to frostbite. Watch for:

  • pale, gray, or blue skin at first
  • red, puffy skin later
  • pain in ears, tail, or paws when touched
  • skin that stays cold
  • shriveled skin

Frostbite Treatment

  • Apply warm (not hot) water for at least 20 minutes to the frostbitten area; Do not use hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets to warm up a frostbitten pet as this may cause burns.
  • Handle the affected areas very carefully; don't rub or massage them as you could cause permanent damage.
  • Call your vet immediately.

It doesn't take much to keep our pets safe when things get frosty. Just like us, our feline and canine friends need shelter, warmth, food, and care. When winter's chill sends you scurrying indoors, don't forget your furry four-footed pals and their simple needs this season.

SOURCES: Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, Portland, Oregon.

Jean Sonnenfield, DVM, Georgia Veterinary Specialists, Atlanta.

Susan G. Wynn, DVM, nutritionist, Georgia Veterinary Specialists, Atlanta; author, Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine.

Griffin, J, MD, and Carlson, L, DVM. Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, 3rd Edition, Howell Book House, 2000.

VeterinaryPartner.com: "Hypothermia."

Hotchner, T. The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You To Know, Gotham Books, Penguin Group, 2005.

Sherri G. pet owner; social worker, Salt Lake City, Utah.

City of Boston, "Pet Safety Tips."

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