Q: When walking dogs, how cold is “too cold” for bare paws on sidewalks?
A: Dogs can become accustomed to the temperatures where they live so ask your veterinary team for specific advice. In general, young puppies and elderly dogs will have more difficulty with the cold. Short-haired dogs and toy breeds with little to no hair are especially susceptible to the cold, while the northern breeds (huskies and malamutes) have thicker pads, which help protect them from the cold.
Sidewalk conditions should also be a factor because moisture (slushy snow or rain) will make pets cold faster. Also, melting agents for snow can be toxic if ingested and can cause skin burns on paws and foot pads. Check for non-toxic forms to use in your yard.
Remove ice and snowballs from your pet’s hair and consider rinsing and drying a pet’s paws after outdoor activity. Watch for signs of dry, cracked pads, which can cause pain. Try using petroleum jelly or baby oil to protect and treat paws.
Q: Are cats equally susceptible to the cold?
A: Cats can be even more susceptible to the cold because of their size and the fact that most cats are not acclimated to the outdoors. If cats are left outdoors in cold climates, they may try to huddle under cars to get warmed by engine heat, which is how they get injured when the car is started. If you live in a neighborhood where there are outdoor cats, pound on the hood before starting it.
Q: Do pets get frostbite?
A: Yes, dogs and cats are susceptible to frostbite — damage to tissue caused by sub-freezing temperatures — when the temperature is at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). The earliest signs of frostbite are often missed because the affected areas are covered by fur. Areas of most concern are ears, toes, tails, abdominal regions, and face.
If affected, skin will become discolored — usually pale, white, blue, or gray — and extremely cold to the touch. It may become very red after thawing if blood vessels have not been badly damaged. Eventually the skin may become scaly following frostbite.
Cats can get frozen ear tips because skin here is thin and there is not a lot of fur. If you suspect frostbite, call your veterinarian for treatment recommendations immediately.
Q: Does protective clothing — like socks or dog booties — help if pets are outdoors?
A: If well-fitted and tolerated, dog booties with non-slip soles can be beneficial in cold and wet conditions. Most booties do not have much insulation but provide protection from chemicals, ice, and snow. If a dog sustains an injury, cover the paw with a bandage and a bootie when outside will help it heal faster. Regular grooming and nutritious food will help your dog develop a warm, healthy coat.
Q: When should pet owners bring their furry friends indoors?
A: Most veterinarians do not recommend keeping pets outside during extreme (about 32 degrees Fahrenheit/0 degrees Celsius) temperatures. One professional said, "If it is so cold that you can’t go out without extreme cold-weather gear, your dog shouldn’t be outside at that temperature either," and I agree.
Although some breeds — like Alaskan huskies and malamutes — can endure cold temperatures if they are used to them, all pets need shelter from wind, rain, and snow. If pets sleep outside, use the following tips for doghouses/shelter:
- It should be large enough for dogs to move but small enough to retain body heat.
- Add warm bedding to protect pets from the cold ground.
- Maintain a regular supply of fresh, unfrozen water and additional food. Snow is not a good substitute for fresh water.
Answers are provided by Linda Workman, DVM, CVA, CCRP, AAHA Veterinary Advisor, who is shown in this picture.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 5, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.