Winter’s here and that means taking extra precautions to keep yourself safe, dry, and warm – inside and out, driving and at home. Along with ensuring your tires are all-weather, your stock of batteries and candles is flush, and your furnace has been serviced, your pets also need some extra-special attention to ensure they are comfortable and safe throughout the harsh winter ahead, no matter where you may be living (Florida and Southern Cali residents aside…)!
Check out our quick-and-dirty winter weather pet preparation tips below!
First, what kind of pet do you have? If you’ve got a Siberian Husky, your winter weather considerations are going to be very different than if you’ve got a greyhound. If you have a large, double-coated dog that has been “bred” for the harsh northen climates like the Alaskan Malamute, Husky, Keeshond, Samoyed, Chow-Chow, or one of these other cold-climate-loving dogs, you may swear you’ve never seen your dog happier as when he’s bounding through the raging winter blizzard, the wind whipping his fur from his face. However, many people mistakenly believe that dogs are “fine” if left outside, and do so, to the great discomfort and displeasure of their dogs. We’re here to tell you: leaving your dogs outside all day and/or night is not good for them, and certainly not in the winter. All pets need shelter from the elements and insulation against cold weather. No animal should be left outside for long periods in freezing or inclement weather – just like humans, they can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. Puppies and senior pets are particularly at risk for health problems. Even though certain breeds, like those mentioned above, are well suited to very cold temperatures and snow conditions, the majority of dogs aren’t, and rely upon your help, as their caregiver, to keep them warm and protected. If you can’t keep your dog inside the house for some reason, then ensure your dog has its own shelter in an area protected from wind, rain, and snow with plenty of insulating materials like blankets, towels, and straw to help them maintain body heat.
Fresh water is a must at all times, even in snowy or rainy conditions! Pets are not able to get enough water from licking ice or eating snow, and it’s always best for your pets to drink clean, fresh (not puddle) water. Keep in mind that pets kept predominantly outside require additional food for energy and maintaining body heat during the winter, in harsh climates.
Don’t use a heat lamp, space heater, or other device not approved for use with animals. These are both a fire hazard as well as a burn hazard for your pets. Pet supply vendors sell heated mats for pets to sleep on or to be placed under a dog house, but read and follow directions carefully before using.
Protect those paws! You wouldn’t want to walk miles through ice and snow without boots… and even though your dog’s paws are a bit tougher than the soles of your feet, dogs can get large ice balls between their pads, causing pain and limping. Make sure you examine their paws and remove ice from the fur between their pads. It can be hard to remove these ice balls, so for dogs that have a lot of hair that grows between the pads, keeping it clipped shorter will help curb the formation of ice balls. Also, salt and chemical de-icers on sidewalks are hugely irritating to paws. They can cause dry, chapped, and painful feet, not to mention stomach upset when your pet tries to lick the irritant off. Keep this in mind when you walk your dog on sidewalks that have been salted or de-iced and make sure to clean his paws with a warm washcloth – or, even better – earthbath wipes – when you come inside. If your dog will tolerate foot gear, dog boots are the best foot protection (as well as a floor-saver) in cold or rainy weather.
Protect those joints and ligaments! Just like their human companions, pets too can slip and fall on icy sidewalks and streets. Even if they don’t fall, dogs are prone to injuries such as sprains or tears in the cruciate ligament, behind the knee, if they “skate” and do the icy slip-and-slide!
Keep your dog on a short leash in the winter! Rather, ensure you keep a close eye on your pup if you let her off leash to frolic in the snow, or else never let her off leash if you can help it, unless she’s in the safety of your fenced-in yard. Dogs lose their sense of smell in extremely cold weather and can become lost. Unfortunately, winter is the season for most lost dogs!
Antifreeze is fatally toxic to dogs – and apparently, delicious. Lock up any antifreeze containers and clean up spills immediately. Don’t let your dogs anywhere near antifreeze – in your house or parking lots. Be especially cautious when walking your dogs if they stop to lick anything on the street or in any driveways: just a few licks of antifreeze can be fatal.
Provide some extra TLC to older and arthritic animals: Just as in humans, arthritis and joint pain gets worse during cold and damp weather. Handle your pet gently, try to prevent your senior cat from jumping up to and down from high places, provide soft (and possibly heated) bedding, and consult your veterinarian if your pet seems like he is in pain or is moving with less agility.
Cats love warm car engines… which could spell disaster if you start your car without ensuring there isn’t a slumbering cat under your hood. If you suspect that your car is a favored sleeping spot for your or any other neighborhood cat, knock on the hood or honk the horn before starting your engine to scare away any cats.
What are your favorite winter-weather pet tips? We’d love to hear from you!