With their thick fur or long hair, some pets may seem like they’d have no trouble tolerating cold winter weather. But cats and dogs (even breeds with heavy coats) shouldn’t be kept outdoors for long during cold temperatures or the extreme winter weather that we get in and around London.
One of our main concerns for pets during the winter—and a reason to limit time spent outside—is frostbite.
What Is Frostbite?
Frostbite is tissue damage that results from extreme cold or prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. This serious condition affects the areas of the body that are farther from the heart, such as the ears, tail, toes, and nose. When the environmental temperature gets too cold, blood is naturally redirected toward a pet’s vital organs and away from those extremities. Wet or damp extremities are at even greater risk for frostbite.
Signs of frostbite include:
- Areas that are cold to the touch (especially the ears, nose, tail, and paws)
- Pale, gray, or blue skin
Frostbite can cause lasting damage if not caught and treated quickly. It may take several days for signs of frostbite to appear, so if you know your pet has been exposed to conditions that could have caused damage, give us a call so we can make sure your pet is OK.
What Pets Are at Risk for Frostbite?
All cats and dogs—even cold weather breeds with especially warm fur coats—are susceptible to winter hazards like frostbite.
A good rule to remember is that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too chilly for your pet.
How Can You Help Keep Your Pet Safer?
When we hear warnings about extreme weather conditions, we need to take the same precautions for our dogs and cats as we do for ourselves, such as limiting time outside.
To help protect your pet from frostbite and other winter weather hazards:
- Take shorter walks with your pet when the temperature drops to freezing or below.
- Keep an eye on your pet outside. If your pet refuses to move, whimpers, or begins limping, check your pet’s paw pads for packed snow, ice, or rock salt. If that isn’t the issue, then your pet may be too cold.
- See if your pet will tolerate a jacket or sweater and even booties. Pets who are older, very young, thin-coated, or short in stature, as well as pets with a medical condition or illness, can benefit from suiting up before spending time outside.
- Check your pet’s ears. Dog and cat ears are particularly fragile and can develop frostbite quickly. Pets who live outdoors are at high risk, but even pets who stay overnight in a cold garage can still get frostbite.
- Keep your pet indoors if he or she is elderly or has a chronic medical condition.
How Can You Protect Indoor-Outdoor Pets?
If your cat or dog is an indoor-outdoor pet or lives outside, you’ll need to provide him or her with protection from the cold and other winter weather elements:
- Start by making sure your pet has a shelter or house, ideally with an insulated interior and a flap that will help keep out snow, rain, and wind—and predators. You can build your own or buy a premade version.
- Make it cozy and attractive to your pet by adding straw or water-repellent blankets.
- Bring your cat or dog inside during cold spells and extreme weather conditions (or throughout the winter season).
- Protect pets from the elements. For pets who do spend time outside in the winter, ask us for additional advice to help keep them warmer and safe.
What Should You Do If You Think Your Pet Has Frostbite?
Pets who have been outdoors even for a short time in extreme weather conditions, including freezing temperatures, are at risk for frostbite. Call us right away if you’re concerned that your pet may have frostbite. This serious condition needs to be treated quickly to give your pet the best chance for a full recovery.