Whether you delight in the cold weather months or prefer to escape to a tropical destination, if you stay in Ohio, you can’t avoid the cold winter weather. But, you can bundle up against the cold, or stay warm and cozy inside, whereas your pet needs you to keep them safe and warm, and to maintain their health when it’s cold outside. To help you protect your pet, our team at Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital answers common questions about cold weather safety for pets. 

How cold is too cold for your pet?

The cold can be fun for you and your pet—but also dangerous. Many people have misconceptions about pets and the warmth of their fur coat, and, “How cold is too cold for my pet?” is a common question. The answer depends on your pet’s cold tolerance, which varies according to the following factors: 

  • Coat — Pets with thick coats (e.g., Alaskan malamutes, Siberian huskies, Samoyeds) experience less heat loss and can withstand the cold longer than thin or short-haired pets (e.g., greyhounds, whippets, Great Danes).
  • Body composition — Small and short-legged pets have a low cold tolerance, in part because they are closer to the ground, and walking in cold weather and snow can chill and tire them quickly. 
  • Age — Young and senior pets have difficulty regulating their body temperature and may get cold faster than healthy adults.
  • Weight —  Extremely thin pets lack insulating body fat and feel the chill much faster than normal or overweight pets.
  • Health status — Some pet diseases make body temperature regulation more difficult. 

These factors contribute to a pet’s cold tolerance, but some pets simply feel the cold more than others. No hard and fast number constitutes weather that is too cold, but many pets start to feel chilled when temperatures dip below 45 degrees. Once the temperature drops below freezing, every pet is at risk of cold-related health conditions and should not stay outside for long periods. 

What are the risks of cold weather for pets?

Like people, pets are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, which can have serious consequences, and can sometimes be deadly. 

  • Frostbite in pets — Frostbite in pets occurs after prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures, especially below 32 degrees. This causes your pet’s blood vessels to constrict to redirect blood from their extremities—most commonly their ears, nose, paws, and tail—to warm and protect their vital organs, including the brain, lungs, and heart. The tissue damage is rarely life-threatening, but frostbite is often a precursor to hypothermia, which can be fatal. If your pet shows frostbite signs, immediately cover the affected areas with a warm dry towel or blanket, and contact our veterinary team. Signs include:
    • Skin that first appears pale or bluish-white and later becomes red and puffy 
    • Red or gray-tinged skin on the ears, tail, or nose
    • Skin that appears brittle or shriveled, and is cold to the touch
    • Painful ears, tail, paws, or nose when touched
    • Ice crystals in or around the nose
  • Hypothermia in pets — A pet’s body temperature is normally in the 100 to 102.5 degree range, and hypothermia sets in when their temperature drops to 98 or 99 degrees. Hypothermia signs may include:
    • Shivering
    • Lethargy
    • Muscle stiffness
    • Difficulty walking
    • Stumbling, or lack of coordination
    • Pale or gray gums
    • Confusion
    • Cool to the touch

Hypothermia can become life-threatening  if your pet does not receive immediate treatment. If your pet becomes hypothermic, take them indoors, dry them with warm towels—straight out of the dryer, if possible—and then wrap them in more warm towels, or use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, so the bottle is not on their skin, to increase their body temperature.

Contact our team immediately if your pet’s temperature drops below 98 degrees.

How can I keep my pet safe in the cold?

Keep your pet safe in cold weather by:

  • Dressing them in a warm, well-fitted jacket
  • Protecting their paws with balm or booties
  • Keeping them inside when the temperature is too cold 
  • Never leaving your pet in an unattended vehicle
  • Keeping them away from poisonous antifreeze
  • Scheduling a winter wellness exam for your pet

No matter how you feel about the cold, you must take precautions to keep your pet warm, healthy, and safe. If your pet has a cold-weather-related emergency, or to schedule their annual wellness exam, contact Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital and make an appointment.