CLEVELAND, Ohio – Northeast Ohioans are expected to endure the coldest temperatures so far this winter later this week, which means residents will be warming their cars up earlier, wearing a few more layers and spending even less time outside.
But what about our four-legged companions who have to brave the outdoors to get exercise and to relieve themselves? Local veterinarians we spoke with stressed how vital it is to keep your pets safe in sub-zero conditions.
“Frostbite and hypothermia are the two biggest threats facing pets in cold weather, which is made worse with temperatures less than zero degrees,” said Beth Malinich, doctor of veterinary medicine at the Animal Hospital of Fairview Park.
“They can die from hypothermia, just like people can,” said Steven Hicks, doctor of veterinary medicine at Akron-Medina Veterinary Hospital. “They won’t die from frostbite, but as the tissue dies from the cold it can get infected and lead to secondary problems too.”
Dog owners need to look out for warning signs while their dogs are outside, according to Malinich.
Dogs not walking on all four feet or limping, which could indicate frostbite.
Dogs standing still or lying down, which could mean their body temperature is getting too low.
“If you notice your dog shivering, acting anxious, whining, slowing down, searching out warm location or holding up one or more paws, it’s time to head inside,” said Jennifer Coates, doctor of veterinary medicine, reported by petmd.com.
Regardless of how severe the weather-related issues appear to be, it’s important to provide your pet with the proper care.
“If it’s mild you can gently warm them up,” said Malinich. “If you think it’s severe, if the area is getting red or it feels hard like it’s already frozen, you should contact your veterinarian.”
Here is a breakdown by Malinich of how long it’s safe for dogs to be outdoors when frigid air moves in.
In cold temperatures 20 degrees and above: Large dogs (50-80 pounds) should be outside no more than one minute per degree. Medium dogs (25-50 pounds) can be outside for 30 seconds per degree. Small dogs (15-25 pounds) can only withstand 15 seconds per degree and extra small dogs (less than 15 pounds) 7 seconds per degree.
At 10 degrees or colder, the guidelines are cut in half. In 10-degree weather a large dog can be outside for five minutes, medium dogs for two to three minutes and any smaller than that “carry them outside, let them go to the bathroom, and bring them right back in,” said Malinich.
The temperature isn’t the only factor in determining how cold is too cold for your dog to be outside. Wind chill decreases dog fur’s ability to insulate. Dampness in the air can more quickly chill a dog and cloud cover can inhibit the sun’s warmth reaching your pet, according to Coates, reported by petmd.com.
Time outside will also depend on the dog’s breed and what type of weather they’re naturally suited to endure.
“I tell people that if you have heavy-coated dogs, like a Husky or an Akita, they certainly can stay outside longer. They’re geared for colder weather,” said Malinich. “If you have a thinner-coated dog that doesn’t have a heavy undercoat, that would be like us walking outside in a T-shirt. Those dogs should definitely have a jacket of some type on or they shouldn’t be outside very long.”
If you’re looking to get your dog some cold-weather gear, you can find boots and jackets at local pet stores, outdoor shops and online. Be warned though, it may take your dog some to get used to wearing them.
When it comes to what gear works best, let your dog decide.
“Pick whatever works for that individual,” said Malinich. “Most dogs are not fans of any sort of boot but some dogs can be trained to wear them so practicing before the bad weather is a good idea.”
Check out this video of cleveland.com editor Kris Wernowsky’s dog trying on his boots.
The bottom line: “In these single-digit temperatures, dogs should not be left outside — period,” said Hicks. “If it’s too cold for us to be out in it, it’s too cold for dogs to be out in it.”