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Protecting pets in extreme cold

As the extreme weather in the Midwest continues, with wind chills dipping as much as 40 degrees below zero, pet owners are rightfully concerned about the safety of their pets. According to a Jan. 5, 2013 article by KSDK News Channel 5's Allison Sylte, "The brutal cold that will follow the incoming storm is expected to last for more than 30 hours." That places the all-clear at evening on Tuesday, Jan. 7. Until the polar vortex has moved on, pet owners are urged to take extreme weather precautions.

Courtesy of National Weather Service, this chart shows how long it takes at each temperature for frostbite to set in.
Photo: National Weather Service

As the KSDK article explains, frostbite starts with "a tingling sensation and gradual numbness – which can lead to permanent damage. Hypothermia occurs when your overall body temperature drops – and it can cause heart failure and even death." Your pet is unable to tell you when their paws begin to tingle, so it is important to know the exposure rate for frostbite. Check the chart shown here to learn just how long your buddy can endure this extreme weather before coming in to warm his paws.

Many people assume that because dogs and cats have fur, they can withstand the extreme weather with ease. That is simply not true. Even breeds with an undercoat are unable to withstand the punch packed by the polar vortex for more than a few minutes at a time. Some breeds are better suited than others (e.g., Alaskan Huskies, Malamutes, Great Pyrennes, etc.) but none should be left outside except for the briefest of potty breaks until the temperatures return to normal.

Animal control and rescue groups have been working overtime to get as many lost and stray pets inside as possible, but everyone can help by keeping pets safely indoors and warming their paws when they come in from even a brief romp in the snow.

Check between the pads of the paws for packed snow, which continues the exposure for many more minutes until the cluster can melt. A warm basin of water by the door should melt the packed snow nicely, while warming the paws, or the tub if your dog is too big for a basin. If you have booties or socks that fit your dog, this extreme weather may be the perfect opportunity to try them out. Whatever you do, save the outdoor snow play for later in the week when temperatures return to normal.

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