ELKHART — Elkhart General Hospital has not treated any cases of frostbite this winter, but emergency department chairman James Shoemaker said he will not be surprised if patients with other weather-related illnesses and injuries start appearing soon.
Heavy coats, thick scarves and extra socks will come in handy over the next few days as temperatures continue to sink below freezing, Shoemaker said. But bundling up is not the only precaution people should take to protect themselves from the blustery winter weather, he added. His best advice for people is to spend less time outside and minimize exposure to the cold weather.
“If you have to be outside, try to be completely covered, including your nose, mouth and ears,” Shoemaker said, adding that people with respiratory issues or bronchitis should especially safeguard themselves from the cold weather.
Shoemaker suggests delaying routine activities, like walks around the neighborhood, until the weather warms up.
People are not the only ones bracing for a week of freezing temperatures. Sara Granberg, a veterinarian at Animal Aid Clinic South, said a lot of her clients ask her how long they can leave their pets outside in extremely cold weather. For the most part, Granberg said dogs do a good job at letting their owners know when they want to go indoors, but there are extra precautions people can take to make sure their pets are not in danger of freezing.
Small dogs that don’t have a lot of body fat or fur should be outside for shorter periods of time than larger dogs with thick coats, Granberg said. Depending on the temperature and wind chill, 10 to 15 minutes is plenty of time for large dogs to spend outside. However, she said some northern breeds, such as huskies and American Eskimo dogs, love the cold weather.
“This is their time of the year, so they want to be out longer,” she said. “They’re built for it, so they can be out for quite a while without having any problems.”
Dogs typically have hairy feet, so snow tends to get stuck between their toes, which could cause a few problems, Granberg said.
“That can get pretty painful and cause irritation and sores because what happens is the dog comes in and starts chewing that spot to get the snow out, and the dog itself could cause a sore,” she said. “It’s a good idea to wipe their feet off when they come inside and keep the hair on their feet trimmed shorter in the winter.”
Salt sprinkled on sidewalks and patios to melt ice could cause dogs to vomit or give them gastrointestinal problems if ingested, Granberg said.
Pet owners should also make sure that their pets’ water supply does not freeze outside, Granberg noted.
“Dogs and cats need water multiple times a day, so there’s different ways to handle that,” she said. “You can get a heated dish that plugs into an electrical outlet to keep the water from freezing. Most of the farm stores have them. You can also go outside and take a warm pitcher of water and give your dogs a drink three or four times a day, but it is something that you need to stay on top of because they’re not going to eat snow to get enough water, and they can certainly dehydrate pretty quickly.”