With winter storm on its way, here’s how to keep your dog safe in cold and snow

Illinois so far has had a fairly mild start to winter, but as we move into January, deep cold and snow could be on its way.

And although we always have to be prepared for our safety, experts urge pet owners to take precautions for the animal members of their families, too.

As the days inch further into winter and frigid temperatures, Dr. Gene Pavlovsky, director of the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine South Clinic, shared in a release from the University of Illinois Extension important winter safety tips for those caring for pets.

Like humans, pets can develop hypothermia, or a drop in their body temperature, after being outside in cold temperatures for too long. Hypothermia becomes even more likely for dogs that are housed outdoors.

“There is no straightforward answer to how cold is too cold and how long is too long to remain outside because there are so many variables,” Pavlovsky said in the release. “For most dogs, it is probably safe to be outside for a very short period – just enough time to eliminate – even in extreme cold.

“However, to be safe, it’s probably best to discuss this with your veterinarian because there may be individual recommendations fitting one pet but not another.”

Likewise, how long dogs can be outside in relatively cold temperatures depends on the individual pet.

Owners should consider size and length of their pet’s fur coat when gauging how long an animal can remain outside, according to the release. Shorter fur offers less protection against chilly temperatures, so those pets may benefit from some extra help.

“If your dog tolerates clothing and footwear, it’s probably best to put those on, especially for short-haired and small breeds,” Pavlovsky said in the release. “These protections can help minimize heat loss and exposure.

“For example, good-quality footwear that does not cause discomfort can allow a dog to spend more time outdoors without getting frostbite on the feet.”

In addition to keeping low temperatures and length of cold exposure in mind, be sure to supervise your dogs when snow and ice are present. Pavlovsky said that, like for humans, “walking on hard snow and ice may result in slips, falls and lacerations for your pets.”

If pets are accidentally left in the cold for too long and develop hypothermia, owners should look for signs and symptoms to know when a veterinarian is needed.

“Signs of hypothermia may include tiredness, shivering, pale skin, shallow breathing and muscle stiffness,” Pavlovsky said in the release. “Frostbite – usually on the feet – can result in lameness of various degrees and pale, firm and cool skin, although [the] extent of injury depends on the amount of time that has passed since exposure and on the degree of frostbite.”

If signs of frostbite or hypothermia are present, contact a veterinarian right away. While waiting to go in for an appointment, keep your dog warm at home by wrapping them in warm blankets, according to the release.

Pavlovsky also explores how ice melt products can harm pets and protection for pets when traveling during the holidays.

Read the full release from the College of Veterinary Medicine.