How Cold is too Cold for your Pet? 

If spending even five minutes outside during Michigan’s icy cold winter is too much for you, chances are it’s too much for your fur baby, too.  

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advises owners to avoid leaving their pets outside for long periods of time in weather that is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below, which constitutes below-freezing weather.  

Pets exposed to temperatures below 20°F are at risk of developing cold-associated health problems such as frostbite and hypothermia, according to PetMD. Keep a close eye on them as they use the bathroom if temperatures are teetering around that level.  

However, there is more nuance to managing your pet’s cold tolerance than just temperature.  

Your pet’s size, weight, and ability to store body fat are factors. You may be inclined to think the rich coat of fur on your pet – especially your dog – provides apt protection against winter’s frigid nature. But that isn’t necessarily the case.  

Dogs differ 

Since dogs are much more outdoor-oriented than our feline friends, dogs will take the spotlight here.  

Not all dogs are created equally; anyone who has seen both an English Mastiff and a Chihuahua in person can attest. 

Breeds with double-layered coats, like Siberian Huskies, for example, are going to fare better in the cold than short-haired dogs like Greyhounds and Boston Terriers.  

The age of your dog will have an impact on their cold tolerance, as well. Extremely young or old dogs – or pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or hormonal imbalances – can’t regulate their body temperatures as well as healthy dogs in the prime of their lives, according to the AVMA. So, those dogs need greater protection from the cold as well as less exposure to it.  

Winter safety tips  

Check their paws, especially during walks: Cracked or bleeding palls are telltale signs of cold-weather damage. If your dog suddenly comes up lame during a walk, he or she may have accumulated ice between their toes. Clipping the hair between their toes could minimize this issue.  

Winter walks can irritate dogs in other ways, too. Keep an eye out for any irritation caused to your pooch’s paws by salt. If licked from their feet or fur and ingested, salt can cause gastrointestinal issues.  

If you use ice-melting products at home, consider buying salt-free brands specifically designed with your pet’s safety in mind.  

Consider chips or collars: If your pet gets lost in the winter, the snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help them find their way home.  

The AMVA recommends circumventing this issue by purchasing a well-fitting collar with up-to-date identification. Or a microchip with updated registration.  

Sweaters can help: Sweaters aren’t just a snazzy way to make our pets festive during the holidays; they can provide real protection.   

Keep multiple dry sweaters on hand during the winter, for walks and any trips outside, as sweaters that become damp or cold can make you pet even colder if you keep reusing them.  

Be mindful of stray cats: Stray and feral cats tend to camp out underneath cars for warmth in the winter. But when on, a vehicle engine can cause lacerations, burns and soft tissue damage. Check under your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to reroute cats caught in a potentially deadly predicament.  

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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