Winter can present challenges to your pets well-being. Dogs need to go outside not just when nature calls but it is essential for them to get exercise for their physical and mental well-being. Although cats most often use the facilities indoors, many venture outside on a regular basis as well. It’s not to late for these winter weather tips to help keep your pet safe.
Inside is Best (Not Just During Winter Weather)
Our domesticated pets should be inside with us. They are not meant to handle the extreme cold. (neither are we).
If your pets primarily live outside, you should bring them in during subzero temperatures. Anything under 40 degrees is even better. During all of the winter months they should have a shelter that is dry and draft-free. There should be enough room to allow them to sit ups as well as lay down comfortably but not too big because their body heat will help warm the space. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with straw or cedar shavings. The shelter should face away from the wind. The opening should be covered with a waterproof flap that serves as a “door” to further keep out the rain, snow, and draft. Outdoor primary pets should have more food (and always fresh. A water dish should have heating mechanism to keep the water from freezing.
Know your Pets’ Limits
Senior pets, very young as well as short coated (think Boston Terrier) and or thin breeds (like greyhounds or whippets) don’t tolerate extended times in the cold. They may still enjoy being outside but you must know their limits. Walks and playtime outside can be fun but will need to be shortened according to their individual tolerance and health. Be sure to check with your pet’s veterinarian for specific recommendations based on your pets breed or state of health.
Clothing May Not Be Optional
Consider sweaters and booties for smaller breeds and those with no body fat (agin, the greyhounds). A coat or sweater should cover the chest and abdomen. One that is waterproof is a good choice for snow, not just rain. Be sure to check that you pet can urinate and defecate without soiling the coat. Don’t forget their Paws.
Winter weather is rough on your pets paws. Some protection is almost always needed in the win
ter. Short walks not only expose your pets’ feet to jagged pieces of ice and freezing water but road salt or ice melt can be hazardous. They are bad for the pads and can get onto the skin between their pads and may cause excessive dryness and cracking. An easy inexpensive home remedy is applying petroleum jelly to the pads. Professional product (professional dog athletes that is) Musher’s Secret a great option. It forms a breathable barrier between the paws and the elements.
- Vet Nurse recommendation: apply just outside your door so it’s not to slick on hard flooring or sticky on carpet.
Booties for your dog are a great option as well. If you choose to use this for your dogs, it is important to introduce them properly so they will tolerate wearing them.
If you choose not to use one of these barriers be sure to Wipe their paws. Use a cloth with warm water to remove the salt, deicers or even packed snow. Pat them dry after you’ve cleaned them off.
Stay Cat Aware
If you keep your car outside or under a car port in which a cat can access your car, always consider a cat may seek the warmth of your car to get warm in the winter months. Before starting your car, bang on the hood and/or honk the horn. This alert will give a neighborhood cat the change to get out before they can be hurt or even killed.
Slippery sidewalks and driveways are dangerous for both pets and pet parents. Common deicers that contain salt based chemicals can hurt their paws but can be toxic if ingested. Pet parents should use pet safe ice-melt/deicers. Its good not just for neighborhood cats safety but for your pets too.
Antifreeze is deadly to pets (and wild animals) the main ingredient in antifreeze is highly toxic and affects the nervous system and kidneys. Store antifreeze in a secure location that pets can’t get into. Be sure to check garages, driveways for leaks from cars. It only takes a small amount to be deadly.
Coat and Skin Care
Just as human skin tends to become dry and itchy in cold weather, a dog’s skin is also prone to winter itch. Be sure to check their coat, and paws for cracked or excessive drying (your cats too). Keep winter baths to a minimum. If you are considering adding a daily supplement like an omega-6 or omega-3, speak with your veterinarian for specific recommendations. If your pet eats a high quality well-balanced diet they should not need this supplementation. Short term use of a supplement may be all that is needed.
Adding polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) can help to moisturize the skin but it also adds calories. Adding calories especially with less exercise or to an already overweight pet will cause additional problems. Dr. Andy Rourke’s blog has a pet parent focused post on this nutritional question.
Make Sure They Can Be Seen
Early sunsets in the winter and walk or playtime outside coincide. Be sure you and your dog can be seen. Wear reflective clothing or collars (for the dog). Light emitting collars are easy to see from far way. There are several types of LED illuminated collars that will keep your dog safe and visible even in darkness. These aren’t just for winter.
Winter brings extreme weather that can cause power outages. Have an emergency plan and make sure they include your pets! Have an emergency kit with enough food, water, and medication to last your pets at least five days. Most likely you will never need it, but if you do, you will be thankful you planned ahead.
Winter can be safe and fun for you and your pets if you take the time to meet to their needs and prepare for emergency. Have fun and keep those furry family members safe.
Happy Pet Parenting,
Cover 📸: @Chalabala via Twenty20
Article 📸: Poppy Ferguson