The vet’s office: Baby, it’s cold outside
Maintaining pets’ health in extreme cold
By Dr. Roger Krogstad, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
The arctic express has arrived, and with it come concerns for extreme cold.
We have heard the term “wind chill” where wind intensifies the effects of cold by carrying warmth away from the body. Outdoor dogs should have shelter out of the wind. Dog houses are best oriented with the door to the south, opposite of the prevailing winds.
One mistake in dog houses is that they can be too air-tight and too warm. Without adequate ventilation, humidity from respiration reduces the efficiency of a thick warm coat. If too warm inside, the extreme temperature changes may confuse the animal’s metabolism. Just enough warmth to take the chill off is preferred.
A frozen water dish may be deadly. Due to the dry air, dogs lose body water quickly through respiration. Without adequate water the peripheral circulation closes down to protect the body core, and frostbite or hypothermia may occur. Water dishes should be secured — so they are not able to be tipped over — and checked regularly to remove the ice barrier. Some sporting catalogs advertise heated water dishes.
Just as you use more energy to heat your home in winter, the outdoor pet needs more energy for its metabolic furnace. Increased amounts of their regular food may be adequate, but in extreme cases the slow addition of carbohydrates or fats may be more efficient. Ask your veterinarians or nutritional counsel for their recommendation.
The thicker the hair coat, the more effective it is in preserving body temperature. A uniform shorter coat may be more efficient than a longer matted coat, so a trip to the groomer may be in order. Short-hair breeds can still do well outdoors in the winter, but their need for increased calories and efficient shelter are amplified.
Frostbite presents most commonly on the ears. Veterinarians often see farm cats with rounded ears from the tips being frozen off. Sometimes dogs have white hair on the tips of their ears from frostbite of the hair follicles. Frozen feet are less likely, but in sub-zero weather you may notice your dog doing a “hot foot” type of dance as the feet rapidly become chilled. If left out in this extreme cold, frostbite could eventually damage the toes.
Short trips outdoors for indoor dogs are wise as they are not acclimated to the extreme cold. Smaller dogs tend to chill faster. Many owners have a winter wardrobe of dog sweaters so their pets can enjoy frolicking in the snow in comfort.
We usually get calls when the temperatures hit 20 below, “Will my dog be OK outside?” My first question is, “What breed of dog do you have?” An arctic breed like the Siberian husky is genetically adapted to sleep outdoors in the snow. All breeds, though, need to be monitored to be certain they have adequate water and food. Staying overnight in the garage may be a better choice as you would be able to see if your pet is tolerating the extreme weather.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.