Cold Protection for Hot Dogs & Cats

Do your fur-kids enjoy the cold weather? Or do they use shivery days to campaign for more lap time?

Magic loves seeing his breath and would spend lots more time outside–if his humans could stand it! Seren-kitty, though, is a heat seeking kitty and has staked out several warm nap spots throughout the house. What about your cats and dogs? Paws up, or down, to winter?

Sure, they have fur mufflers to keep icy winter blasts at bay. But pets risk cold weather dangers just as much as people do, and maybe even more. Because most folks have a warm place to retreat, and not all cats and dogs have this luxury. Others, like Magical-Dawg, may not have the sense to come in from the cold when they’d rather play in the frigid temps.

I grew up in Northern Indiana and hated the cold–I still do, although I do appreciate seeing a white Christmas (but from the view inside the house, LOL!). My thriller LOST AND FOUND takes place during a freak blizzard that puts a little boy and his service dog at risk for freezing to death. The main character September offers cold weather pet tips in a radio interview as the book opens. But I thought y’all might like some more of the furry de-tails (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

How Pets Stay Warm

Dogs and cats don’t benefit from gi-normous dog houses, and even the garage (unless it’s heated!) may not be protective. Instead, they curl up in small shelters that can be warmed by their own body heat.

Shelter from the wind and precipitation is vital. Fluffed fur traps warm air next to the skin in an insulating layer, but wind strips that away.Getting wet makes the cold worse, when fur can’t fluff to hold warm air. A twenty-mile-per-hour wind makes forty-degree weather feel like 18 degrees, more than enough to cause frostbite in an unprotected cat or dog.

Adult dog and cat body temperature ranges from about 100 to 102.5 degrees F. Puppies and kittens, though, have trouble maintaining body temperature. Newborn pups and kittens must pile together in furry bundles, or snuggle next to Mom–and if left alone, they can develop hypothermia and die even in mild weather. Huddling together shares warmth and reduces wind loss of heat, and shivering generates heat.

Shorthaired pets have less protection but even fuzzy critters are at risk. Thinly furred areas or body parts exposed to the wind or that come in contact with the icy ground have little protection from the cold.

Pets conserves heat by diverting blood circulation from the ear tips, toes and tail to protect the vital organs in the central part of the body. But reduced circulation to these extremities increases the chance for frostbite.

What Is Frostbite?

Tissue is 90 percent water. When frozen, cells rupture when the water expands just like ice cubes overflowing the tray. The resulting damage—termed frostbite—can be painful and severe.

Frostbite turns the skin pale white, gray or blue. Fur may hide the damage but you’ll notice pets limp from frozen toes, frozen ear tips or tails droop, and the skin will be very cold, hard, and nonpliable.

Redness, blisters, and serious infection develop days later. If it’s really severe, the affected tissue turns leathery and insensitive to sensation. If not removed surgically, those areas fall off. When I worked as a vet tech in Eastern Kentucky, we often had pet patients that lost parts of ears, toes and in one memorable case, an Elkhound lost his curled tail. All cases of frostbite need veterinary attention after first aid. You can learn more about pet frostbite and first aid tips here.

What Is Hypothermia?

While frostbite causes discomfort and damage to the extremities, hypothermia happens when overall body temperature falls below normal. In people hypothermia is defined as body temperature lower than 95 degrees, and treatment is vital to survival. When body temperature falls too low in pets, they can die.

Mild hypothermia happens if body temperature drops to between 95 to 99 degrees F. Pets act a bit sluggish and lethargic, and you’ll see muscle tremors and shivering. Moderate hypothermia is more serious when the temperature falls to 91 to 95 degrees. Severe hypothermia is body temperature 90 degrees or less, and is an emergency—take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible! Pets lose the ability to shiver if their body temperature falls to 90 degrees or below, so that’s a warning sign. They may fall unconscious, and rescue breathing may be necessary. Learn more about hypothermia and home first aid here.

The best protection is to provide shelter from the wet and cold. Bring outdoor cats and dogs inside during severe cold. Why not snuggle together, share body heat and protect each other safe from Old Man Winter’s dangers?

So how do you protect your pets from cold weather? Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!


Cold Protection for Hot Dogs & Cats — 7 Comments

  1. Back when my folks still had outside dogs and cats, they had little mini houses inside the barn full of straw for the kitties to pile into – of course they would all pile into the same tiny box. LOL The dogs’ houses were made smaller by stuffing tons and tons of straw in them – they were also 2-roomed dog houses that my dad built, so they normally curled up in the back room furthest from the door, totally bundled in straw. Dad always used to pile straw bales around the pen, too, to cut the wind. Their last dog for some reason got terrified of the straw though, just totally flipped out and tried to dig out, so he had to be moved to the garage.

    Now their “outdoor kitties” stay in the garage because the coyotes have gotten too bold in recent years and they lost a couple of their favorite babies, finding out the barn was not enough protection anymore. There’s a fan in there for the summer, and a kerosene heater they turn on when they’re at home in the winter – only when they can supervise. They also have a box lined with blankets and such, sealed up on almost all sides, with a vent hole that I believe faces in toward part of the basement wall where it can get some of the heat from there. At least, that was the plan – I don’t know if he ever got that fully set up though.

    Of course, our kitties are indoors all the time, so they just pick a spot in the sun and flop. ;)

    • Karyl, this sounds like a well thought out system for your folks’ pets. I think it was last year that about this time a stray kitty showed up at my brother’s home in Ohio, and finally invited herself inside. Cats are smart that way!

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  3. I have a Great Dane, and so she doesn’t have much natural protection from the cold. With my previous Dane, we installed a heat lamp (with a protective cover of course so she wouldn’t burn herself) in a dog house for her for when she had to be outside. Our current Dane hates the dog house, so we have to keep her in if we’re going to be gone for any length of time and just ask a friend to stop by to let her out if we’re gone too long for her bathroom needs. My cats are way too smart to want to go outside in winter. They actually don’t ever want to go outside :)

    • Smart cats, Marcy! My Seren is the same way. I don’t know what it is about some dogs and dog houses. Maybe they feel trapped. Hmnnn, fodder for an article some time.