Winter hits harder in the mountains. Those who have been in Summit County for a while know this. What we might not know is how the cold, snow and shorter days are affecting the health of our pets, which might not be adapted to the climate at elevation and require special attention.
Meg Leroux, shelter operations manager for the Summit County Animal Control & Shelter, has a few tips for pet owners to help keep their furry companions comfortable and safe this winter.
For one thing, it’s important to be observant of your animals and to make sure they’re doing OK and not showing any signs of discomfort or stress. Dogs, as expressive as they are, can make it clear they’re not feeling great. When they’re too cold, dogs will shiver, whine and (while walking outside) start hovering their paws off the ground to show the ground is too cold for their paws to handle. Other unusual behavior should be noted, such as extreme lethargy. Always consult a vet if the symptoms seem concerning.
It’s important to always remember that dogs of different breeds can have extremely different cold tolerances and adaptation. The Siberian husky has evolved to adapt to cold weather and thrives in it — Chihuahuas have not and do not.
Owners of dogs with short coats or otherwise not biologically equipped for the cold weather should consider using sweaters or other clothing to help them maintain heat in the cold. Leroux said the coat should be able to cover the animal from the neck to the dock of the tail, including the belly.
If it’s 10 degrees or below, it’s probably too cold for domesticated animals to stay out long, so take short potty breaks before bringing them back in. Consider getting booties to put on their paws to avoid cold, snow and harmful chemicals from ice melt and salt. Leroux advised that the booties be professionally fitted at a pet store.
If you’re not using booties, bring a towel with you on walks to periodically clean off dog paws and keep them clear of ice or snow balls that can form between the toes. Owners of long-haired dogs should consider trimming fur around the paws to avoid snow accumulation and ice forming there. After returning from a walk, rinse off your dog’s paws to get rid of any of those irritants from commercial ice melt and other chemicals.
At elevation, dehydration comes on quickly in both humans and animals. While you’re making sure to keep yourself hydrated, always make sure your animals have enough water throughout the day. Leroux said snow does not have enough water content to keep dogs hydrated, so if you’re going to take them out, make sure to bring along enough water for both of you.
Leroux said one of the most common calls for help shelter gets during the winter is welfare checks for dogs in cars parked at ski areas. Given that cars are 30 degrees warmer inside than outside, they should be safe if it’s mildly cold out. But even in winter, hot cars are a concern for dogs — especially with the region’s consistently sunny days, which can turn the inside of a car into an oven at temperatures as low as 50 degrees.
Leroux advised pet owners to leave their dogs at home if they can. If an animal must be left in a vehicle, make sure to keep a window cracked open, provide sufficient water and visible bedding to assuage concerns from passers-by. Make sure to check on your animal at least every few hours, and remember that it is illegal to tether an animal outside of a vehicle.
While the weather doesn’t usually follow us indoors, be mindful that in the high altitude climate, a bare floor can get very cold at night. If your animal sleeps on the floor, give them a bed or some other covering to sleep on top of to insulate them from the cold. As with human children, try to make sure any wood stoves or other heat-producing appliances are secured and not prone to accidental touching — curiosity really can kill the cat.