Winter Pet Safety
We all love our pets, don't we? The colder weather of the winter months brings challenges that pet owners should be aware of and take precautions against to keep our furry children safe and healthy.
1. Keep pets indoors as much as possible. When temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to keep all animals indoors except when exercising or "doing their business". Make sure your “outdoor” dog has a dry, comfortable, draft-free doghouse large enough to allow him to sit and lie down, but small enough to hold in his body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. Pet stores carry safe heated floor mats and non-electric warm bedding. Also, make sure the doorway is covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic to keep out that frigid wind and hold in as much heat as possible.
2. There is no such thing as an outdoor cat. If you have an "outdoor" cat, make him an "indoor" cat just for the winter. Cats are more fragile than dogs and cannot tolerate the cold as easily as their furry counterparts can. Keep your cat purring by letting him snuggle up inside for a few months.
3. Feed your pet more often. Because outdoor exercise is more strenuous in colder weather and snowy conditions, your pet needs more fuel to maintain his body temperature. Feed them more at a meal, or feed them more often that you normally would so they have more energy in lower temperatures. Check with your veterinarian to find out how much more food your pet requires during the winter months.
4. Keep your pet's water bowl full. Our pets must have fresh water at all times, especially in winter when dehydration is more common. If your pet's water bowl is kept outside, check it regularly to ensure it is full and unfrozen. Use a tip-proof bowl to keep Fido’s paws from freezing. And never use a metal water bowl—the old wives tale is true: a tongue will stick to wet metal, and injury will result. Ouch! Heated water bowls are available at many pet stores.
5. Doggie sweaters are more than a fashion statement. If your dog has short hair, you may want to buy him a sweater for his daily walk to help him keep his body temperature up. Not only will he be the talk of the neighborhood, he will stay warm and dry.
6. Our pets get dry skin too. Just like our's, our pets' skin is dryer in the winter. This dry skin can result in “doggie dandruff” and can even cause it to crack and bleed. To help keep your pet's skin from becoming too dry, you can add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to your pet's food. Check with your vet to see if he recommends doing this.
7. Limit outside play time. Keep an eye on the clock when your dog goes outside to play or "do his business: Paw pads can become cold and frostbitten which is both dangerous and painful! Use an old towel to wipe off paws when he comes inside to keep them dry.
8. Get out that snow shovel. After a heavy snowfall, be sure to shovel a path in your yard so your dog doesn’t have to work hard to find a place to "do his business".
9. Take shorter walks outside. In really frigid weather, don’t take long walks. The salt and chemicals used to de-ice roads can irritate paws, and when your dog licks his paws later, the chemicals can irritate his digestive tract and make him sick. Another reason to wipe off your pet's paws every time they come in from an outside break.
10. Pets like to eat weird things. Antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid spilled on your driveway smell sweet and taste good to both dogs and cats. As little as a teaspoon of these substances can kill your pet. Symptoms to look for: acting “drunk”; lack of coordination; vomiting; depression; and increased water intake and urination are all signs that your pet might have ingested these chemicals. Call your vet immediately if you suspect antifreeze poisoning—it can kill in as little as four hours.
11. Cold weather aggravates arthritis. Even young pets are at risk, especially if they are overweight. If your pet is having trouble getting up or laying down, climbing the stairs or snaps or cries out when picked up, call your vet, who can offer several treatments for this condition. Never medicate your dog with human medicine of any kind. One acetaminophen tablet can kill a cat.
12. Winter dangers lurk inside the house as well. Keep your pet away from fireplaces, space heaters and propane heaters. Just one swish of the tail can knock a heater over or singe or burn fur.
If you see an animal left out in the cold in your neighborhood or on the street, speak to its owner or notify your local police or animal welfare agency. Do not be accusatory or belligerent when talking to neglectful pet owners. They may just not know about the dangers of leaving a pet out in the cold for extended periods of time. Together we can all keep our beloved pets safe and healthy this winter!