December 3, 2019Blog

Winter Medical Risks for the Homeless and Their Pets

By: Devin Morrissey

As winter fast approaches, it’s easy to think about images of curling up on the sofa with your four-legged friend, enjoying a cup of hot cocoa by a roaring fire. We see winter as a “cozy” time of rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone.

In 2018, over 550,000 people in the United States experienced at least one night of homelessness. Many of those people have been homeless for sustained periods of time.

As you can imagine, winter weather is on the horizon, and it poses a lot of risks for the homeless population of the country as well as their pets. So just what are those risks? Is anything being done to help the homeless and their pets as the temperatures get colder? Let’s take a look at some of the potential dangers, as well as what’s being done about them.

Health Risk for the Homeless

The homeless population is typically at a greater risk for health problems in general. On top of that, most homeless individuals don’t have access to healthcare because, as one of the most vulnerable populations in our country, they can’t afford it. But, in the winter, health risks become even greater because of weather conditions.

In certain circumstances, frostbite can occur in just 10 minutes. That can create numbness in the skin and extremities, blistering, and stiffness. In some cases, it can even be so severe that they may require hospitalization. If a homeless individual isn’t able to cover their skin and protect it from the elements, the risk of getting frostbite is greater.

The same goes for hypothermia. If your body temperature dips below 95 degrees, hypothermia can begin to set in. When a homeless person is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for long periods of time, it’s not hard for their overall body temperature to become dangerously low.  This risk is even greater for homeless people who are already malnourished or don’t have enough body fat to keep their internal temperature up. If a homeless person is inactive for long periods of time and then tries to find a source of “quick heat,” they may also put themselves at risk for issues like varicose veins.

Cold Weather Risks for Pets

Unfortunately, pets face many of the same risks as their homeless owners. They aren’t immune to frostbite or hypothermia if they’re exposed to extremely cold temperatures.

Another major risk for pets hits the pads of their feet. Everyone knows how important it is to protect your feet, but there isn’t much dogs and cats can do to protect their paws from snow, salt, ice, and debris unless they’re covered. As a result, it’s easier for them to get frostbite on their feet. Rock salt and chemicals are often used to help melt snow, but they can also cause damage to the pads of their feet.

Unfortunately, it’s not just their feet, fur, and skin that animals have to worry about. Common ice-melters like rock salt are poisonous to dogs. Antifreeze is also incredibly harmful and can kill an animal quickly. Some people use these chemicals to get rid of ice and snow. Others leave them out specifically to get rid of “strays.” It’s a sad reality, but it’s true, and it’s a constant threat to the homeless pet population.