Keeping pets safe in the bitter cold

Whether you choose to call it a polar vortex, an artic blast, or an invasion from Canada, it doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that it’s downright freezing across much of the United States right now. And not like the it’s-50-degrees-in-Los Angeles-so-let’s-pull-out-the-scarves cold. I mean, it’s seriously cold.

With temperatures in the single digits, and wind chills far below zero, it’s worth putting pen to paper to remind us of some basic cold weather tips for you and your pets.

• Antifreeze, which has a sweet taste and is attractive to animals, can be deadly to pets even in small amounts, so make sure to promptly clean up any antifreeze spills in your driveway or garage! As little as 1/2 teaspoon is enough to kill an eight-pound cat.

• Tip: Ask your mechanic to be sure that you have propylene glycol–based antifreeze in your own vehicles. Brands such as Sierra and Prestone Low Tox use the less-toxic propylene glycol as the anti-freeze agent.

• There is a common misconception that dogs will be OK if left outside during the winter months. This simply is not true. All pets need adequate shelter and protection from the wind, snow and freezing temperatures. Both dogs and cats are safer and happier when kept indoors during cold weather, except when taken out for short periods of closely supervised exercise. Don’t leave your pets outdoors unattended when the temperature drops below freezing. Pets who stay inside most of the time may find it difficult to adapt to cold temperatures. Pets can quickly develop hypothermia and frostbite. Ear tips and tail tips are particularly susceptible to frostbite.

• Many dogs, particularly those with short coats, will be more comfortable outside if they have a sweater. Many dogs also need boots in cold weather, regardless of coat length. If your dog frequently lifts up his paws, whines or stops during walks, it is probably because his or her feet are uncomfortably cold. You may want to also check out booties and consider buying a set. That is, if your pup will wear them.

• Be particularly careful when taking older or arthritic animals outside. They will likely become stiff and tender quickly and may find it difficult to walk on the snow or ice. Keep them close to your side when walking on ice to avoid a slip-and-fall accident.

• Don’t let dogs off the leash during a snowstorm. No matter how much they want to play in the snow, they can easily lose their scent and become lost in the snow once they are unleashed. Make sure dogs are wearing ID tags before you take them out, snow or not!

• Chemicals and salt solutions used to melt snow and ice can injure or irritate the pads of your pet's feet and may be harmful if ingested. Gently wipe their feet with a damp towel before your pet has a chance to lick them. Here at Best Friends, we use pet-friendly SafeStep Enviro Blend.

• Cats and other small animals may seek the warmth of the engine of a parked car. To avoid injuring any animals hiding under your hood, bang on the hood or honk the horn before starting your engine.

• Never leave your pet alone in your car in an attempt to keep them warm. Leave them at home or bring them with you on your errands. They can freeze to death in a car during cold weather. The enclosed space of a car will not maintain sufficient heat to protect them from the cold. In fact, cars can actually act like a refrigerator and hold cold air in, putting your pet at risk.

• Make sure you have enough food, litter and fresh water to last a few days, just in case the weather conditions prevent you from going to the store.

• If you are concerned about feral cats, you can offer them a shelter. If you’re handy, you can make one from a plastic tub or Styrofoam cooler. Or, you could choose to buy one. Check out all the options on the Alley Cat Allies website.

If you’re in one of the hard-hit areas with the cold and snow, be smart, stay safe and keep our pets warm and protected.

Francis Battista
Cat Dog