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Keeping pet safe in extreme weather

No matter where you live in the country, you’ve most likely experienced one kind of extreme weather or another. The southwest frequently suffers under an onslaught of heat, the northeast battles cold snaps that stop people in their tracks, and thunderstorms are a common occurrence from coast to coast. We may think we know how to handle these situations—drink lots of water, limit your exposure outside, avoid standing in open fields—and perhaps we do. For humans. But what about our pets? Although some of the same rules apply, there are also special considerations that should be made for the four-legged members of our families.

Braving the cold

Unlike during the hot months, in cold weather you’ll want to schedule your dog’s walks for the daylight hours more often than not, when temperatures are elevated. It’s important to keep their paws off the snow and ice as much as possible—if your dog will wear booties, they can be quite helpful—and remember to wash them thoroughly after they’ve been outside. Ice melt may not be pet-friendly and could end up burning their sensitive paws. If there’s snow on the ground, shovel paths to help them find a place to go to the bathroom, so they don’t have to wade through the snow and spend more time in the cold than necessary. Jackets can be helpful, but only you know if your sweet fur baby will hold still long enough for you to attempt to put them in one. Overall, your best bet is to limit time spent outside.

Hydration is just as important in the cooler months as it is in the warmer ones. Cold, dry weather can easily dehydrate animals (of the two-legged variety, too, so don’t forget yourself!), so carry water on your walks in the winter as well, and make sure their water bowls are full at home. Although you may be inclined to feed them more than normal, thinking an extra layer of fat would do well to keep them warmer, overweight animals can be more susceptible to a whole host of health issues, so resist the temptation.

Again, you’ll want to keep them inside as much as possible, where it’s plenty warm. Fleece blankets strategically placed in their favorite snuggle spots will go a long way to helping them stay warm. Shorthaired pets are more susceptible to cold temperatures, as are elderly animals and those with diabetes, heart or kidney diseases, and hormonal imbalances. Ask your veterinarian for specific suggestions if your pet suffers from any of these conditions.

Familiarize yourself with the signs of hypothermia and frostbite. Symptoms of hypothermia include noticeable anxiety, weakness, and shivering. If your dog starts to slow down or stop while on a walk or seems to be looking for a place to burrow in, return home as quickly as possible. Frostbite is harder to recognize, as it may take a few days for the damage to be seen, so follow the suggestions above to protect them from the cold when they must go outside. If you’re at all concerned about hypothermia or frostbite, call your veterinarian.

Stormy weather

Thunderstorms can come at any time of year, and animals are understandably unnerved by the lighting and thunder. It’s important to establish a safe place in your house for your furry friend ahead of time. An interior room, where they’re less likely to see signs of the storm, with white noise or soft music playing in the background, can go a long way to soothing your anxious pet. Some animals like to burrow under covers, so if this applies to your dog or cat, have plenty of blankets and sheets available, perhaps even in a cozy nest under a bed. Some pet owners have had success with tight shirts that wrap their pets chest, which are similar to the idea of swaddling for human babies. You’ll need to try them ahead of time, because they may also have an adverse effect on your pet.

It may be hard for you to tell if your animal is reacting poorly to a storm. For some animals, they may become destructive, or attempt to escape while they’re afraid. Hyperactivity, panting and pacing around could also be signs of fear. It’s also possible that their signs are much more subtle, like yawning or remaining completely still, so you may want to keep a journal to track their behaviors during storms as well as in times of good weather. This will help you recognize their unique signs, and hopefully put practices in place that will keep them as calm as possible during storms. In extreme cases, you may need to consult your veterinarian about medical options.

It’s getting hot in here

During the hot summer months, especially when heat waves last for an extended period of time, plan to walk your dog as early in the morning as possible, while it’s still cool. It’s also best to save your evening walk for after dark, when temperatures have dropped significantly from their mid-day high. Always carry plenty of water with you, and avoid walking on asphalt as much as possible, as paws can burn easily, which may contribute to a rapid rise in overall body temperature. Even after making these concessions, limit the length and strenuousness of walks as an added precaution.

Your best bet is to keep your pets at home, inside the air conditioning, as much as possible. It may help to keep their fur trimmed (but not shaved!), and cats in particular can benefit from thorough brushings. Ice cubes added to their water dishes are a refreshing change, and cold, water-filled treats like watermelon and cucumber may also help cool them down (once you’ve cleared it with your vet, of course). If your pet likes to cuddle, it would be a good idea to switch out their cozy blankets for lighter-weight sheets. Some people swear by cooling pads, but again, it’s best to do your research and check with your vet before trying one out.

All precautions aside, make sure you’re familiar with the signs of overheating in animals. Some signs are obvious (excessive panting or difficulty breathing) but others are more subtle (drooling, mild weakness, or glazed eyes). If not caught in time, symptoms can get worse, leading to vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and in some cases, seizures. Animals who suffer from preexisting conditions like heart or respiratory illnesses, as well as the young and the elderly, have the highest risk in extremely hot weather. It would be wise to take your animal for a checkup in late spring or early summer to make sure they don’t have any health issues that could be aggravated during the hot summer months.

Safe, healthy, and secure

In all weather situations, the best way to keep your pet safe is to never leave them outside unaccompanied. Making sure their collars and IDs are up to date is important as well, in case they do make a run for it in a stressful situation. Don’t forget to keep an eye on your animal after any type of extreme weather, in case they have a delayed reaction or suffer adverse effects from feeling anxious for an extended period of time. By paying close attention, you can stop most issues before they become serious.