Regardless of how thick their coats are, dogs can get frostbite and hypothermia just like people. Puppies, older dogs, underweight dogs, and short-haired breeds should spend the least amount of time outside when temperatures are very cold. When there is snow on the ground be aware that short-legged breeds may have more difficulty than those with longer legs do who can keep their chests and bellies out of the snow. Depending on where you live temperatures can quickly become dangerously cold for your dog. Here are a few things to watch out for during the winter months and a few dog safety tips for winter and extremely cold weather.
A dog’s typical body temperature runs between 101.5 and 102.5. Hypothermia can occur when your dog’s temperature falls below its average range. When a dog cannot regulate his own body temperature and is unable to produce heat as quickly as he loses it, as in cold weather, he may develop hypothermia.
Signs of hypothermia are:
- lack of coordination
- decreased heart or breathing rates
- muscle stiffness
- in extreme cases, collapse or coma
If you notice your dog shivering or walking stiffly while you are outside, find shelter quickly. Pick up a smaller dog, as they lose heat walking on the cold ground. Once inside warming your dog with a blanket should return the dog’s body temperature to normal, although the only way to confirm this is with a thermometer. If your dog continues to shiver or move stiffly, or if you notice more significant signs of hypothermia, you should contact a veterinarian immediately.
Less insulated parts of the body such as ears and paws are most likely to get frostbite. Frostbite is tissue damage that is caused by exposure to extremely cold temperature. Depending on the temperature, this can occur quickly or when a dog is outside for too long. Frostbite can be difficult to recognize, especially in breeds with longer hair, but some things to look for are:
- areas that are cold to the touch
- redness, swelling, or pain
- dry, scaly skin
Frostbite can be very painful, and in extreme cases amputation may be necessary to prevent further tissue damage. If you suspect frostbite, do not touch the affected area and take your dog to the veterinarian for immediate care.
Antifreeze poisoning is, unfortunately, very common in the winter months as households use it in cars and to winterize pipes. Antifreeze is lethal to dogs and it takes only a very small amount to poison a medium sized dog. To prevent your dog from ingesting antifreeze be sure to clean up any spills and check your driveway for leaks from your car. Keep bottles out of reach in the garage as they could tip and spill if not properly closed, or the dog could lick drips on or around the bottle.
Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include:
- wobbling or “drunken” behavior
- lack of coordination
- rapid heartbeat
If you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze, you should call your veterinarian immediately. Some vets may advise inducing vomiting but this is only helpful if the dog has ingested the antifreeze within two hours, and can be harmful if the dog has swallowed a different toxin, so should only be done after consulting with the veterinarian.