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    Cold Weather Care for Geriatric Pets  

Older pets may have more difficulty getting around in cold and inclement weather. They are more susceptible to physical stress and generally have less strength than a younger animal. Arthritis, cardiac and lung diseases and other systemic conditions will be affected by cold air as breathing becomes more difficult. Additionally, smaller fat reserves make an older pet more susceptible to hypothermia, so leaving older animals outside, even if they seem to like it, should be carefully monitored.

Here are some ideas for caring for our geriatric friends in cold weather:

  • If pets are housed outside, provide a warm insulated enclosure and plenty of fresh water. Replace frozen water frequently or use a heating device to keep buckets from freezing. Dog houses should be large enough for a pet to move around comfortably but small enough to retain body heat. Bedding such as blankets or straw will provide another way to maintain body heat. The door or opening should face away from wind and a flap or cover will help prevent drafts. During severely cold or extended cold spells, pets should be moved indoors; older pets will not be able to stay warm regardless of the shelter.
  • Keep geriatrics up and moving. Stiffness and pain from arthritis and other joint conditions will restrict the amount of exercise an older pet can handle; however, lying too long in one place generates more stiffness and makes it even harder for them to get up and move around. Short walks several times a day will help keep joints flexible. Be sure to give any medication prescribed by your veterinarian. Missed doses will increase pain and lethargy.
  • Protect your pet from poisons. Winter leads to increased use of antifreeze in vehicles, salt and de-icing products. Many of these chemicals are toxic if ingested and it doesn’t take much to make a dog sick. Wipe off or rinse feet after walking if there’s a chance that any of these poisons could be on your dog’s paws. Dogs always lie down to lick their feet clean after coming in! Protect feet and pads from ice and snow. Commercially made booties are available to protect from frostbite and snow or ice between the pads. Groomers will also shave out the hair from between pads and this helps prevent snow or ice from accumulating.
  • Accidents from slips and falls happen with dogs as well as people. Older dogs are often unsteady and can fall over chunks of snow or slide on ice. Walk geriatric pets in the safest areas where no ice or little snow covers pathways. Shovel snow away to make an area for dogs to relieve themselves without having to struggle through a drift. Older dogs also can have poor eyesight and may not be able to distinguish a frozen pond from snow-covered ground, so monitor outdoor activities.

This article is provided as a general overview of the topic. Always consult your veterinarian for specific information related to diseases or medical care for pets.

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