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Pet Care. Pet Training. Pet Stories.
Pet Care. Pet Training. Pet Stories.

5 Common Winter Illnesses in Pets

02/15/2018 by Colleen Williams
February 15th, 2018 by Colleen Williams

Key Takeaways

  • Hypothermia affects dogs exposed to cold due to low body temperature.
  • Frostbite involves tissue damage that happens to dogs in extreme cold.
  • Antifreeze poisoning can occur if a pet gets into this liquid in the house or garage.
  • Dogs can get upper respiratory infections in the winter.
  • Kennel cough can be caused by bacteria or a virus and is contagious among dogs.

The weather outside is frightful, but to some snow-loving pets it may seem delightful. Read on to let your pooch (or kitty) enjoy the winter wonderland safely and avoid these common winter illnesses.

1. Hypothermia

Just like the human condition, in dogs hypothermia is low body temperature caused by exposure to cold. The combination of wet and cold is also very dangerous to dogs. Soggy fur is no fun and can freeze, one cause of hypothermia in dogs.

To prevent hypothermia, avoid extended periods in cold temperatures. For short outdoor excursions like bathroom breaks and daily walks, protect your pet’s paws with booties. A sweater, jacket or fleece can also keep fur dry and snow-free.

Symptoms of hypothermia in dogs include shivering, lethargy and listlessness. Take your pet’s temperature via a rectal thermometer; a reading below 95 degrees Fahrenheit indicates hypothermia. If you suspect your dog or cat has hypothermia, get to your nearest vet clinic. In the meantime, try and raise the animal’s body temperature with warm blankets or a towel-wrapped hot water bottle.

Cat frostbite

Exposed areas like tail and ear tips are susceptible to frostbite in nippy temps. Image via Commercial Creative Commons on Flickr.

2. Frostbite

Hypothermia and frostbite in dogs go hand in hand. Frostbite is tissue damage that occurs in extreme cold and varies from minor to severe. It depends on your pet’s size, age, fur thickness and how long he or she has been outside. Fur and skin soaked from snow or ice also puts your pet at risk of developing frostbite.

Prevent frostbite in dogs by limiting outdoor activity in extreme temperatures. Other measures are similar to hypothermia above, including keeping fur and skin dry and wearing pet-friendly outerwear.

The symptoms of pet frostbite depend on how far it has developed:

  • First degree: Pale, hard skin at the extremities that turns scaly, red and swollen when warmed.
  • Second degree: Blistering on the skin.
  • Third degree: Skin darkening, often over several days; gangrene may develop.

If signs of frostbite emerge, bring your pet inside immediately and apply lukewarm water to affected areas. Never massage frostbitten areas, as this could cause pain. Immediate, emergency veterinary care is required to safely warm your pet. Painkillers and antibiotics may be prescribed as well.

3. Antifreeze poisoning

The chemical ethylene glycol, an additive in antifreeze, gives the substance its sweet taste. Pets often lick the liquid off garage floors, sidewalks and streets, or out of toilet bowls in homes that use it to winterize pipes.

Prevent pet antifreeze poisoning by storing all household and automotive chemicals out of paws’ reach in a latched cupboard. Make sure to clean all garage spills and find pet-friendly ways of winterizing your pipes. When walking your dog outside, protect your pet’s paws with booties and do a post-walk paw wipe.

Signs of antifreeze poisoning are mainly drunken behavior, such as wobbly walking, nausea/vomiting, seizure and coma. If you spot these symptoms, call your vet immediately, but do not give your pet any substances. They may advise administering hydrogen peroxide as an emetic, but do not do this without your vet’s advice.

4. The sniffles

Just like humans, dogs and cats can catch a little cold in the winter. Usually it’s not serious – a slight cough, wetter nose, a little fatigue or lethargy all indicate a minor upper respiratory infection.

Follow the guidelines for preventing other cold-related conditions. Place a humidifier in your pet’s favorite room to help their cough; if you don’t have a humidifier handy, take Fido or Fluffy into the bathroom with you while you shower – the steam will have the same effect. Feed your pet warm foods, even a little low sodium chicken or beef broth is okay.

Take your pet to the vet if he or she is very young or old, or if any preexisting conditions could complicate the cold. If symptoms don’t improve within a few days, make an appointment with your vet, as some stubborn sniffles require antibiotics. It’s also important to keep your sick pet quarantined from the healthy ones.


5. Kennel cough

Dogs are susceptible to canine infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as kennel cough for the way it spreads. Boarding facilities, winter temps, stress, and inhaling smoke all increase the risk of developing kennel cough. A bacteria and a virus are responsible for the condition, often both at once.

Prevent kennel cough by quarantining potentially infected pets until you can get vet care. A kennel cough vaccine is also available; if you pet is very young or old, or has preexisting conditions, consider having friends or family pet sit instead of boarding.

A goose-like, honking cough is the primary sign of kennel cough. This noise differs from the “reverse sneeze” common in some breeds, like Beagles. Sneezing, runny nose and eye discharge are secondary symptoms.

Treat minor kennel cough with a humidifier or at-home steam treatment. If it persists after three weeks, visit your vet for some antibiotics and to confirm the diagnosis of kennel cough. Pneumonia, tuberculosis and other serious respiratory conditions have similar symptoms.

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