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Seven winter safety tips for protecting pets

BOSTON — As Winter Storm Niko threatens the Northeast, experts from BluePearl Veterinary Partners are urging everyone to study up on ways to keep themselves – and their pets – safe.

It’s important to know that pets can suffer frostbite and hypothermia just as humans can, say BluePearl veterinarians who treat dogs and cats all winter long for weather-related injuries.Golden Retriever enjoying playing in the snow. Winter Wonderland, Bear Valley California

“If it feels cold to you, it’s probably cold to your indoor cat or dog,” said Dr. Will Fischbach, a senior clinician in emergency medicine for BluePearl.

The best way to protect your pets is to protect yourself first – don’t make unnecessary drives in a blizzard, make sure you have enough food and medicine on hand, and more than anything, practice good common sense. But not everything about winter pet care is so obvious, so check out this tipsheet specifically for pet owners:

  • A winter storm makes everyone stay inside, right? So some pets will spend more time time in garages and basements. Make sure to clear these spaces free of antifreeze and rat poison, both highly toxic. And remember, cats love to crawl into anything warm, including a nice cozy car engine. If Fluffy spends the night in the garage, make sure to locate her before starting the car.
  • If you spread a de-icer on your driveway or sidewalks, find one that’s pet-friendly.  Various toxins and even salt can cause problems for pets, who tend to lick the substances off their paws.
  • Don’t leave your pet alone in a car while you go into the store. It’s a bad idea in the heat and it’s a bad idea in the cold.
  • Winter can make it hard for pets to find their way back home because ice and snow mask familiar scents and paths. Keep pets on leashes so they don’t get confused and lost. Be sure your dogs and cats are wearing identification tags. And don’t forget to have pets microchipped.
  • Your dog will never tell you, “Oh, my arthritis acts up in the cold.” And yet, it does. If your pet struggles when getting up and moving around the house, make a trip to the veterinarian. Also, make sure your pets have soft, warm bedding.
  • Consider getting your dog a sweater or coat, especially if they are short-haired. “This type of dog clothing is actually functional,” Fischbach said.
  • Feel free to say “Duh,” to this one, but it’s still important: Don’t leave your pets in the cold for too long. Even your pets’ fur coats and thick paw pads will not protect them from prolonged exposure. Monitor your pets and bring them inside if they start to shiver or if you see redness in their tails or ears (which could be frostbite). Once inside, help them get the ice out from between their toes.

Most BluePearl hospitals offer emergency service around the clock, with veterinarians always on duty, including during holidays. Find a list of hospitals here.