Old Man Winter is knocking on the door, or in some parts of the country, blowing it down!, and that means taking extra precautions to keep you and your family safe, dry, and warm – inside and out, driving and at home. Along with weather-proofing your pipes, cleaning your gutters, and firing up your home fires, your pets also need some extra-special attention to ensure they are comfortable and safe throughout the harsh winter ahead.
To be sure that your pets will ride out the winter warmly and safely, follow the winter weather pet prep tips we’ve compiled below!
Minimize outdoor time. Many people mistakenly believe that dogs are “fine” if left outside, and do so for hours at a time, even as weather conditions deteriorate into bone-chilling temperatures, freezing winds, and blowing snow. Even though dogs have fur, they are still uncomfortable and possibly in great danger in these conditions. All pets need shelter from the elements and insulation against cold weather and no animal should be left outside for long periods in freezing or inclement weather – just like humans, they can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. Consider animals in the wild: all of them, even strong animals like bears with heavy double coats, burrow and bed down in dens and shelters they make, in which they can take refuge from inclement conditions. Dogs aren’t prepared to ride out winter conditions outside, 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 like a dog house or protected enclosure 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.
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.
Cushion 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! And 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.
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!
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.
Remember to keep all poisons away from your dog, especially antifreeze. 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.