Judging by the hats, hoodies and scarves being worn by people around town, winter has arrived in the Santa Clarita Valley. Mornings and evenings are especially frigid, with temperatures dropping under 40 degrees.
We’re not the only ones feeling the chill, according to veterinarian Brianna Wilson of Happy Pets Veterinary Center.
“A good rule of thumb is if it is too cold or hot for you, then it is cold or hot for your pet,” Wilson said. “Around 45 degrees is when it’s getting cold enough to mildly effect pets.”
Those effects present themselves as shivering, your pet seeking a heat source and experiencing fatigue. When temperatures hit freezing (32 degrees), things can get more serious.
“We become most concerned about frostbite and hypothermia or a pet’s temperature dropping below normal body temperature, which ranges from 99 to 102.5 degrees for dogs and cats,” Wilson said.
Signs of life-threatening hypothermia include intense shivering, slow breathing, fatigue or lethargy, stiff muscles, fixed pupils that won’t constrict in light, and finally coma or death.
Such symptoms require immediate veterinary care, which usually includes slowly warming up the body over a period of several hours as to not send a pet into shock, making sure blood sugar levels stay adequate and that proper hydration is maintained.
Any small, short-haired pet is at risk in cold weather, especially those that have been recently groomed.
Even those with long hair and thick undercoats that fare better in cold weather can still fall prey to other problems.
“Some breeds are ‘made’ for snow and below-zero temperatures, however they still run a big risk of frostbite, cuts on the extremities or paw pads, chapped noses and lip edges. If you have your groomer remove any of the top or under coat, your pet is now less insulated and cannot tolerate as cold of temperatures as before,” Wilson said. “And when any pet drinks water, they can be messy and can get on their face, legs and paws, which opens them up to frostbite easier and chapped skin.”
In short, keeping pets inside the home is the best prevention to any of these issues, not to mention the right thing to do, as Wilson pointed out.
“Having to ‘tolerate’ cold temperature isn’t exactly a good quality life, which is what we should strive to provide for our pets,” she said.
Some pets even appreciate the extra warmth of wearing clothing made especially for them. To find out if your pet is a fashionista, Wilson suggested the following:
- Don’t put a sweater or sweatshirt on them and leave for the day. Introduce them to wearing it when you are home to monitor them and ensure they don’t get snagged the clothing snagged on anything or try to scratch it off and tangle a nail in the fabric. (A fabric sweatshirt material may not be as cute as a knit sweater, but it is less likely to get caught on your pet or other things around the house).
- Signs that your pet is not enjoying the clothing experience include scratching at it non-stop, chewing at it, running around in circles or rubbing their whole body on the floor or couch.
- You need to ease them into it gently. Giving low-calorie treats (like a frozen Kong stuffed with xylitol-free peanut butter, plain Greek yogurt or a mix of the two) or a favorite toy is a good way to re-focus their energy on something else until they get used to having the sweater on.
- Signs that pets are comfortable in clothing are either indifferent to having it on, may scratch one or two times briefly, or may be excited to see the object that is going to make them warm and want to wear it. (The last is especially true when it signifies you are going for a walk and your pet really enjoys their outdoor time).
- Once you know they are comfortable wearing their clothing and there isn’t risk of getting caught anywhere in the house, then you may leave them alone wearing it.
- The same process applies to dog booties. Having your dog wear these outside is a good idea to prevent unwanted cuts or frostbitten toes.