Winter weather warning from a shelter veterinarian

As arctic weather continues to surge across Kansas City, Dr. Rhiannon Koehler, DVM and Shelter Veterinarian at Great Plains SPCA, warns about the dangers of these frigid temperatures.

“Winter weather, particularly arctic blasts, can be especially dangerous for our pets. Some pets love playing in the snow or ice (I’m looking at you, huskies), but it is up to us to watch out for our pets and keep them safe. Each pet will react differently to cold, with some pets suffering when temperatures are under 32°F while others are still bounding through the snow like they belong at the North Pole, so it is important for pet owners to monitor their pet’s well-being and let them inside if they are shivering or whimpering at the door. Under 20°F, we become very concerned that pets could develop hypothermia or frostbite and highly recommend that pet owners keep their pets inside at all times except for bathroom breaks. 

Hypothermia is when the pet’s internal body temperature falls below normal. Hypothermia can slow your pet’s heart rate, cause an abnormal heart rhythm, low blood pressure and even death. 

Signs of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Weakness or collapse
  • Changes to breathing (increased with mild hypothermia, depressed with more severe hypothermia)

Frostbite refers to tissue damage caused by exposure to cold temperatures. Affected tissue often includes the tail, ear flaps or scrotum. Frost bitten tissue can be extremely painful, may become infected and require amputation. The scary thing about frostbite is that you may not notice the signs until it’s too late.

With frostbite, affected body parts may be:

  • Pale or slightly blue and cold to the touch
  • Painful or numb
  • Completely frozen
  • Reddened and swollen after thawing, which can be extremely painful
  • Blistered
  • Shrunken, discolored, and sloughing several days after the injury

If you note signs of hypothermia or frostbite in your pet, visit your veterinarian immediately! Turn up the heat and put some blankets on your pet on your way to see the doctor. Keep in mind that a pet’s tolerance of cold can vary based on internal factors (breed, size, age, coat length, medical conditions) and outdoor conditions (wind chill, rain or snow, cloud cover). If you know of a community animal in imminent danger, call your local animal control. If you know of a pet in need of non-emergency assistance, contact us at or (913) 831-7722.

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