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Prevent pets’ cold weather emergencies

Winter’s freezing temperatures bring snow, ice and the risk of two serious health hazards for your pets: Hypothermia and frostbite. Dr. April Finan, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Chicago Animal Emergency Room, offers advice on how to avoid a trip to the vet caused by exposure to the elements.

“Hypothermia occurs when your pet’s core body temperature drops below the normal range of 99.5 to 100.5 degrees F,” said Finan. “Animals with hypothermia will show signs such as lethargy and weakness. If you suspect this problem, wrap your pet in a warm blanket and get him/her to a veterinary hospital quickly.”

Finan warns against placing anything hot, such as a heating pad or warm water bottle, directly against your pet’s skin.

For pets who enjoy the outdoors, exposure to extreme cold temperatures, below freezing, should be limited to 10-15 minutes. It’s important to factor in the wind chill and how much shelter is provided. Even with above-freezing temperatures, the wind chill can cause pets to become chilled and potentially hypothermic faster.

Pets that remain outside longer will need access to a warm shelter away from the snow and ice. You’ll also have to find a way to ensure their water bowl does not ice over.

Some exotic pets can develop hypothermia even if they don’t go outside.

Especially in the winter, it is very important to make sure your exotic pets’ heat sources and/or light sources are providing them with the appropriate temperature. Also, be sure to keep these pets away from drafty windows and cold rooms, which can cause the temperature in their enclosures to drop to levels that are not appropriate for these pets.

For pets who spend time outside during the wintertime, frostbite is another concern.

“You should monitor your animal for signs of cold and numbness of the extremities and ears during the winter, especially after prolonged periods outside,” says Finan.

Despite these cautions, Finan still encourages owners to take their dogs for walks in the winter.

“Taking pets for a short walk may result in some temporary cold discomfort, but nothing more,” she says.

And what about those adorable doggy jackets and coats to go along with the booties? Finan thinks for the most part those are more for show than for actual benefit to the pets. However, she says breeds with low body fat and a short hair coat, such as the greyhound, should wear a coat outside during the winter to help prevent hypothermia.

If you have questions about protecting your animal from the cold, consult your local veterinarian.

Source: Dr. April Finan. Author: Brittany Way Rose.

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