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Protect yourself, and your pets during dangerously cold weather

A pug stands in snow while wearing an orange jacket.
(Photo via Shutterstock)

With brutally cold weather expected over the next several days, the Forest Preserve District is reminding everyone to take precautions for their own safety and the safety of their pets. 

The National Weather Service has issued a winter advisory for dangerously cold wind chill temperatures starting at midnight Saturday, Jan. 13, and lasting into next week. According to the NWS, wind chills of minus 20 degrees to minus 30 degrees can result in frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

The predicted windchill low for Sunday through Wednesday morning is minus 10 to minus 30 degrees.

“While being out in nature is good for mental and physical health, sometimes it’s best to be cautious, stay indoors and wait for weather conditions to improve,” said Cindy Cain, the Forest Preserve’s public information officer. “And don’t forget to protect your pets in this kind of weather. They, too, are at risk for frostbite or hypothermia.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued tips for staying safe in dangerously cold weather if you have to be outside:

  • Wear several layers of lightweight clothing rather than one or two layers of heavy garments.  The air between the layers of clothing acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
  • Cover your head.  You lose as much as 50 percent of your body heat through your head.
  • Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves.
  • Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks or two pairs of lightweight socks.
  • Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes that give you maximum traction.
  • Cover your ears and the lower part of your face.  The ears, nose, chin, and forehead are most susceptible to frostbite.  Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect the lungs from directly inhaling extremely cold air.

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion. confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.

Frostbite also can occur.

“Frostbitten skin is whitish and stiff, and the area will feel numb rather than painful. If you notice these signs, take immediate action,” according to the IDPH.

And don’t forget about protecting your pets in the cold. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association: 

  • Know the limits – Be aware of your pet's tolerance for cold weather and adjust accordingly. Shorten your dog's walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. 
  • Stay inside. Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. It's a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it's untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and generally should be kept inside. 
  • Check the paws: Check your dog's paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked or bleeding paw pads. 
  • Play dress-up: If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. 
  • Recognize problems: If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.

For more detailed cold weather tips for pets from the association, visit the agency’s website.


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