Talking with the Experts: Talking cold weather and pets

With the arrival of winter and colder temperatures, Dr. Kristi Flynn, an assistant professor and veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine, shares tips on how we can keep our pets safe. 

Q: What cold weather temperatures are dangerous to pets?

Dr. Flynn: This depends on the individual dog. It goes without saying that a breed like a Siberian Husky is going to do quite fine in very cold temperatures, where a Chihuahua may not even be able to tolerate the extreme cold for more than a few minutes. Dogs should not be left outside unattended in below-freezing temperatures and higher temperatures than that for smaller, elderly pets or those with certain medical conditions.

Q: What are some of the health risks to pets exposed to cold weather?

Dr. Flynn: Dogs and cats, like people, can experience frostbite, hypothermia and even death with exposure to the cold.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of cold weather exposure and when should a pet owner seek veterinary care? 

Dr. Flynn: If there is ever any concern, it’s best to call your veterinarian. Signs would include red, painful paws or ear tips, or even lethargy, similar to a person experiencing hypothermia.

Q: What are treatment options for pets exposed to cold weather?

Dr. Flynn: If you forgot your pet outside for a prolonged time in cold or even a short time in extreme cold, you should reach out to a veterinarian if you see the above signs. Otherwise, it is best to let them warm up slowly under a blanket, next to you or on a heating pad provided they are able to get up and move away if they find it to be uncomfortably warm.

Q: Is there anything else pet owners should be aware of to prepare for cold weather?

Dr. Flynn: If it works for your family and living situation, consider an indoor elimination area such as pads or a patch of sod (purchased in the fall) in the garage for cold intolerant dogs to use over the coldest months. 

Dr. Kristi Flynn is an assistant professor and veterinarian in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Science. She is passionate about preventative care; behavior, including the implementation of low-stress handling techniques in the clinic; veterinary dentistry; and nutritional manageme

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