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Maryland Dog Magazine

Doggie It’s Cold Outside: Winter Weather Safety

Feb 23, 2015 02:10AM
Doggie It’s Cold Outside: Winter Weather Safety

By Dr. Naomi Johnson

As we settle in for cold weather many of us prepare by checking that our furnaces are working properly, winterizing our cars, and stocking up on winter items such as de-icers and anti-freeze. I encourage you to remember the health of your pets this winter season. Some of the common items we use in the winter months can be toxic to our pets.

Anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) when ingested, even in small quantities, can be extremely dangerous to your pets. Less than 4 teaspoons can be fatal in a 10 lb. dog and its sweet taste is palatable to most pets. Ingesting anti-freeze can lead to life threatening kidney failure, in-coordination, depression, increased thirst and urination, vomiting, and even seizures. It is important to seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested anti-freeze. Anti-freeze has three phases of toxicity. Initial signs beginning within 30 minutes and lasting up to twelve hours include nausea and vomiting and possible neurological signs; in-coordination, abnormal behavior/vocalization, etc., and increased thirst and urination. Twelve to twenty-four hours after ingestion, the toxin causes changes to the blood PH leading to fast breathing and heart rates. The final stage of intoxication, 24-72 hours in dogs (shorter time frame in cats), is kidney failure. A specific antidote is available, however once kidney failure begins most animals do not recover. While the amount of toxin they ingest is key to the extent of injury, intoxicated pets only have a chance of recovery if they are treated quickly and aggressively. Exposed animals often need several days in a veterinary hospital with aggressive supportive care including IV fluids, multiple blood and urine tests, and other medications.

Hypothermia, or exposure to the cold, is a problem for humans and animals. Unfortunately an exact amount of time in the cold weather or an exact cold temperature does not exist as this can vary from dog to dog. It is better to play it safe and minimize outdoor time on extremely cold days just as you would with yourself or a child. Hypothermia can lead to lethargy, loss of appetite and more severe problems such as shock and organ failure if severe. Pets suffering from hypothermia should be moved to a warm environment and you should contact your veterinarian right away. You may cover them with warm blankets or clothes (such as those out of the dryer). You may place a warm water bottle by your pet but it is important that you do not use heating pads or electric blankets as these can lead to severe skin burns. It is recommended that you get your pet to a veterinarian for treatment right away, but taking these steps for the trip to the vet will certainly help.

Ice melting products while keeping us safe from slips and falls on roads and sidewalks can be problematic to our dogs as well. These products can lead to irritation of exposed skin, pads, mouth and GI tract but can also lead to drooling, depression, vomiting, and electrolyte imbalances if ingested in large enough quantities and depending on the active ingredients. Keep your pet’s paws clean and dry this winter season by wiping them off and drying them with a towel after walks. If your dog tolerates them you may want to try booties for their feet. For the areas around your home, purchase ice melt products that are safe for pets. Please seek veterinary care if you are worried about ingestion of these products.

If you are concerned about these or any other toxins, please contact your primary care veterinarian or the Pet+ER at 410-252-8387 for assistance 24 hours a day. Save these numbers in your phone so you will be able to reach help quickly in an emergency. We also recommend keeping the phone number for Poison Control on hand, the Pet Poison Helpline can be reached 24 hours a day at 855-764-7661. More information can be found at

With a little planning and a watchful eye you can avoid some of the common cold weather pet dangers this winter.

Dr. Naomi Johnson, DVM, received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Lansing, MI. She completed her internship at University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in St. Paul, MN. Dr. Johnson is an Emergency and Critical Care Veterinarian at the  Pet+ER in Towson, MD where she is on a team of eight emergency and critical care  doctors, including the area’s only board-certified criticalist, at the 24/7 Emergency  and Trauma center. Dr. Johnson and her husband have a young son and are expecting their second child in early 2015. They also have two cats, Max and Sam and a beagle named Auska.