KALISPELL, Mont. -- Cold weather isn’t just dangerous for humans, it can be dangerous for pets. One Kalispell family realized that last week when they found their cat frozen outside.
When she was found, Fluffy the cat was encased in almost 3 inches of packed snow, Animal Clinic of Kalispell veterinarian Dr. Jevon Clark said.
“The owner knew this is potentially a disaster here,” Clark said, explaining the cat’s body temperature was too low to register on the thermometer.
Fluffy was unresponsive when she arrived at the Animal Clinic of Kalispell. She was rushed into treatment. Veterinarians raised her body temperature using warm water, blow dryers, towels and intravenous fluids.
“Probably within an hour, she was at least starting to act like a cat again,” Clark said.
It took seven hours, but eventually doctors were able to bring Fluffy’s body temperature back to normal, and she was released to her family.
Fluffy’s condition was extreme, but Clark said he’s treated many animals suffering from hypothermia. Small animals and animals with less hair or body mass tend to be at greater risk of hypothermia.
“You think about a Labrador that weighs 100 pounds being out in this,” Clark said. “It can survive a lot longer than a 10-pound chihuahua.”
If an animal does get hypothermia, it’s important to get medical attention. Like humans, hypothermia can be deadly for pets.
“The biology is the same,” Clark said. “You worry about organ failure and the brain and central nervous system.”
There are ways to prevent hypothermia from happening. Clark said coats shelter animals from the wind and keep their body heat from escaping.
“My dogs, if they go out this time of year, they’re wearing a coat,” Clark said.
Keeping an animal’s fur dry and groomed also helps. Clark said fur helps insulate an animal, but if it’s wet or matted it loses that function.
Boots might not keep an animal’s body warm, but Clark said they can protect paws from cold and frostbite.
“You don’t often think about how sharp ice and snow is when it gets crusty,” Clark said. “They can actually traumatize their toes and get little sores between their toes.”
An animal’s breed, size and fur all contribute to its ability to withstand the cold. Clark said there’s no uniform time limit for an animal to be outside in frigid weather, but behavior can indicate when it’s time to go inside.
“If they start shivering, it’s time to go inside,” Clark said.