Because our furry friends rely on their owners for safety and comfort—particularly in the winter—dog and cat owners have a heightened responsibility to take precautions to protect their pets during the colder months.
Fortunately, remembering a few easy-to-follow winter tips should help keep your pet healthy and happy this winter. Make sure you watch your pet's food and water intake, keep it safe from winter hazards and check to see that it has adequate shelter, and your pet will thank you.
If you're like most pet owners, you probably spend less time outside with Fido or Fluffy when there’s snow or ice on the ground. As a result, your less-active pet may need less food. But, if your dog (or cat) loves frolicking in the snow, he could be burning more calories than usual, and as a result he'll need more food—especially protein. Keep an eye on his weight, and if you notice fluctuations, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
If you live in climates where deep snow blankets the ground, don't let your dogs off their leashes. During a snowstorm, dogs can lose their scent and sense of direction and get lost.
When returning from a walk, take a few minutes to wipe your dog's feet. She may have stepped in ice-melting chemicals, which can irritate and burn the pads on her feet. These chemicals can be toxic if ingested, so try to clean off her feet before she has an opportunity to lick them.
Dog boots are increasingly popular in frigid locations; not only do they protect paws from chemicals, but they can guard against cuts from sharp pieces of ice and prevent uncomfortable accumulations of snow from building up between your dog's paw pads. Pet supply stores also carry special ice melts that can help remove the snow packed in your dog's paws.
Since your pet's fur keeps him warm in the winter, check it for matting. It's also a good idea to let your dog's coat grow a little longer in the winter to provide more warmth. After you give him a bath, dry his coat completely and give him a good brushing before taking him for a walk. Consider a sweater to provide extra insulation for your short-haired, fashion-inclined dog or cat.
Cats love small warm spaces when the weather gets cold, and under your car's hood is an ideal hideaway. Before starting your engine in the mornings, bang on the hood to scare them away. Also check around your car for antifreeze, which is a deadly poison that has a sweet taste that can attract cats and dogs. Wipe up any spills. Better yet, use anti-freeze coolant made with propylene glycol, which is less toxic than ethylene glycol antifreeze.
If they come along for road trips (or quick errands), don't leave dogs or cats in the car when you get out. Animals can freeze to death in cold cars.
It's best not to leave dogs outside for long periods of time when winter temperatures arrive. However, if you must keep your pet outside, be vigilant. Freezing temperatures can quickly turn the water in their bowls to ice. Use plastic instead of metal bowls to keep your pet's tongue from sticking and freezing to the bowl and refill them frequently so that the water doesn't freeze. Consider purchasing a heated bowl (some come with automated filling) to ensure they don't get caught without water.
Make sure your dog or cat has a dry place away from the elements—raising a doghouse a few inches off the ground can keep its floor warmer, and installing flaps or waterproof burlap on the door will reduce drafts. Spread wood shavings or straw on the floor, and check daily to ensure that your pet has dry bedding.
You can even purchase a heated bed, heated pads or microwavable pet bed warmer for added protection. Look for electric cords that resist chewing and, if you are going to use the pad or bed outdoors, make sure the product has been designed for that purpose. A heated pad can also be beneficial if your dog has joint or back problems.
Use a liner or blanket over a heated pad to make sure the surface doesn't get too hot for your dog or cat. Also, be sure to check the pad frequently, indoors or out, to make sure the temperature stays in a comfortable range. Many types of heating pads have automatic thermostats that adjust to your pet's body temperature. A word of caution: Heated pads may not be appropriate for animals with certain types of skin diseases or in hotter weather. Before using a heated pad or bed, be sure to check with your veterinarian.
Remember that your pet is healthiest living inside. The happiest dogs get lots of exercise from long walks but spend the rest of their time indoors.
Do you have additional tips for keeping your pet warm when cold weather arrives? What about a favorite heated pet bed or other product that you'd recommend? Tell us about it in the comment section below.