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Can Dogs Get Colds? And Other Winter Questions Answered

Everything You Need to Know to Have a Healthy Pet This Winter

By Sam Bourne. November 19, 2013 | See Comments

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    vet verified

    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Irish setter with white cat sitting atop his back

Winter is full of challenges, even if you are a pet. With the danger of antifreeze poisoning in dogs and cats, frostbite nipping at their ears and tail, and just general cold weather safety all at the foreground, questions like “can dogs get colds?” start to merit some concern. Find out everything you need to know about dog and cat winter safety here.

While a blanket of snow covering the ground and the ability to see your breath hang on the air might be charming at first, anyone who lives in an area that gets hit hard by winter can tell you that the shine is off the apple pretty quickly. When it comes to keeping your pets safe and sound this winter, a few questions worth asking are...

1. Do Pets Get colds?

Just like people, our pets’ immune systems are more vulnerable during the cold months, leaving them open to catching what we might consider a “cold.” And while it won’t be the same strain that people get, the symptoms of their cold are much like our own. One common wintertime ailment your pet may come down with is the upper respiratory infection, which looks almost identical to the common cold: sneezing, coughing, and runny nose. During the winter, pet parents should be extra vigilant, as many of these conditions are highly treatable, but can become more serious if left unchecked.

2. does weather affect Skin and Coat Health?

Yes. Colder, dryer air can chap skin. To help keep your pet’s skin and fur healthy, a good brushing is a great way to stimulate the production of weatherproofing oils on their fur, as well as help speed up the growth of their winter undercoat.

For pets who are suffering from dry skin, one way to soothe them is giving them an oatmeal bath. It is best to avoid washing their fur with shampoo, as the degreasing components would end up stripping their fur of the very weatherproofing oils they need to fend off the ravages of winter. There are medicated shampoos for pet dry skin available, but consult with your vet before using them.

3. is winter worse for Arthritis and Joint Pain?

Again, yes. The winter climate can exacerbate your pet’s arthritis or joint pain, and while the cause of this additional pain is still mostly unknown, current theories cite the dryness of the air and the drop in air pressure as causing an expansion in the joints, or a stiffening of the muscles, resulting in more pain. Whatever the case may be, if your dog or cat suffers from arthritis or chronic joint pain, the winter can be pretty bleak. Keep up with your pain-reduction regimen (routine exercise, healthy diet, medication or supplements, like Dasuquin for dogs), and take precautions to avoid extremely cold temperatures.

4. can my pet get Frostbite?

Exactly as nasty as it sounds, this cold weather condition affects more than just people. Pets out in sub-freezing temperatures for extended periods of time often fall victim to the icy numbness of frostbite, most often affecting their ears, paws, and/or tail. While some breeds are less susceptible than others (i.e., Bernese Mountain Dog or Maine Coon Cat), the only real way to protect against frostbite is to avoid extended periods outdoors.

If your pet does get frostbite, the first thing you should do is get them inside and take them to the vet. Never rub frostbitten skin, as this could release toxins into the bloodstream. Also, try to keep your pet from licking the affected area for the same reason. Depending on the severity, medication may be necessary to keep your pet from experiencing the large amounts of pain that can come with frostbite.

5. is Dehydration a Possibility?

Dehydration during the winter occurs far more frequently than most pet parents assume, mainly because people associate dehydration with hot weather and over exertion. The reality is that a cat or dog running around in the cold is just as likely to get dehydrated as one running around in the summer sun. Also, people may assume that eating snow is the same as drinking water in terms of preventing dehydration -- it isn’t. Remember to bring along something for them to drink.

But don't forget to do some running around and exercise with your pet, even when it's cold. Packing on extra weight over the winter due to less exercise is no good.

6. what can i do about my Fireplace?

Nothing is nicer than a crackling fire in the fireplace on a blustery winter evening, but if it isn’t gated off, it could quickly become a nightmare. Should your cat or dog get too close to the fire, or to a heat lamp, they could easily singe off some of their fur, or worse. Just remember to be safe when stoking the yule log this year, and make sure that any major heat source is well guarded.

7. how do i deal with Rock Salt on the Sidewalks?

A crucial component for making the streets and sidewalks traversable, ice-melting rock salt can do a real number on your pet’s paw pads. They can get lodged in the grooves of their feet, and even burn them in the same way they melt ice. Be careful to avoid particularly salty patches when walking with your pets outside, and make sure to wipe off their feet when you come back in.

8. what Are the Dangers of Antifreeze?

Yet another necessary evil of the season, this blue goop is all over driveways this time of year. One unfortunate fact about this highly toxic chemical is that it has a distinctly sweet taste that many pets are keen to sample, and it can take as little as a couple teaspoons to put your pet’s life in danger. While pets who receive treatment quickly have a high survival rate, oftentimes pet parents don’t know what to look for, thereby putting their pets in jeopardy. The onset of antifreeze poisoning includes:

  • Lethargy
  • Disorientation
  • Grogginess
  • Loss of coordination

If you have reason to suspect that your cat or dog has ingested antifreeze, take them to the vet immediately.

More on Winter Safety

7 Pet Holiday Safety Tips for the Winter Season
Pet Safety for the Holidays -- Infographic
A Cat Proof Christmas Tree: It Is Possible

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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