By Erica Radhakrishnan


Baby, it’s cold outside!  The New Year is here, and Old Man Winter continues to unleash his frosty breath on Central Kentucky.  It is important to remember as temperatures drop and we bundle ourselves a little tighter before heading out the door that our pets also require extra attention before venturing outside.   

Not all of our pets’ fur coats are as warm and insulated as we believe, especially when exposed to brutally cold and wet weather.  Short haired, smaller, older, younger and thin pets are more susceptible to the dangers of winter temperatures.  Some chronic, medical conditions and medications also put pets at greater risk.

Exposure to winter elements for an extended period can quickly lead to hypothermia which is a dangerously low body temperature or frostbite of the legs, paw pads, nose, tail and ear tips.  Signs of mild hypothermia include shivering, weakness and a reduction in mental alertness.  More advanced symptoms include shallow breathing, stiffness, dilated pupils, low blood pressure and difficulty feeling a pulse.  The effects of hypothermia impact internal organs.  Owners can see evidence of frostbite externally, on their pet’s skin.  Initially, frostbite causes the skin to appear gray or pale and may feel cold and hard to the touch.  Frostbitten skin that thaws will turn red, puffy and be very painful.  If severe, frostbite will cause the skin to die, blacken and slough off.  If you suspect your pet has frostbite or is hypothermic due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, bring them indoors, wrap them in a blanket or towel, and seek immediate veterinary care as these conditions can be life threatening.    

In general, pet owners should practice the adage, “if it’s too cold for me, it is too cold for my pet” and bring outdoor pets inside during cold, inclement weather – especially during wind chill advisories.  However, if impossible, follow these extra measures to protect your outside pet’s health during winter months.

•  Always provide your pet with access to clean water, food and a warm, dry, draft-free shelter.

•  Insulated houses with dry bedding or blankets raised off the ground to minimize heat loss work best.  Use thick bedding and change it regularly to ensure dryness.  Heating pads can cause burns and fires, therefore, are not recommended.    

•  Consider purchasing a heated, tip-proof, pet bowl to prevent your pet’s water source from freezing.  A variety of these products are available online or at your favorite, local pet store.  However, bowls heated by an electrical cord pose a potential hazard, especially to pets that like to chew.  Use good judgment before investing in one of these products.

•  Be sure to keep your pet’s fur coat well groomed and free of mats to protect skin from the elements.

•  Sweaters and coats are helpful for keeping your pet warm when outdoors.  However, wet jackets will cause hypothermia faster than not wearing one.  Be sure to remove wet clothing quickly to reduce this risk.

•  Booties will protect your dog’s paws from winter dangers such as ice collecting on fur between the toes and paw pad irritation from salt or ice melt.

•  However, most importantly, remember YOU are your pet’s best defense against Jack Frost!  Check on outdoor pets often to assess their wellbeing and stock of basic needs.