Pets, Places, & Things, Points on Pets

Winter Weather Challenges Are On the Way…Be Prepared

By Cindy McGovern

Winter Weather Challenges Are On the Way…Be Prepared

As summer fades to fall, the challenges you and your pet face from the heat and humidity of summer fade as well.  You may take longer walks and your pet may be more energetic.  Don’t forget, though, that winter is just around the corner with its own set of challenges; freezing temperatures, chemically treated roads and sidewalks with snow and ice.

Perhaps the most important thing any pet owner can do is to know your pet. If you have an arthritic or older pet, they may have more problems walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes.

If it’s cold outside for you, it’s cold for your pet. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a common misconception is that because an animal has a fur coat, they’re immune from the cold.  Just like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside during cold weather.  Some long-haired dog breeds, such as Huskies, are more tolerant of the cold. These breeds, however, are the exception, not the rule. In fact, short-haired breeds feel the cold faster because they have less protection and short-legged pets even more so because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come in contact with the cold or snow-covered ground.

If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious or weak, slows down or stops moving, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, they may be showing signs of hypothermia. Get them back inside quickly. If they’re wet, dry them off before wrapping them in a blanket. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.

For any animal, exposure to winter’s cold can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaky skin.  Limit baths during the cold as washing too often can remove essential oils from the skin and increase your pet’s chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If you must bathe your pet, use a vet recommended moisturizing shampoo or rinse. If your dog is long-haired, trim his fur to minimize potentially clinging ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals that can dry his skin. And don’t forget to check the hair between his toes to see what it may be hiding.

Pay particular attention to your dogs’ paws in cold weather and check them frequently for cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or ice accumulation between the toes.  Paws, legs and bellies may pick up de-icers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. Once your walk is over, wipe down those areas to remove the chemicals. Not only does this protect the feet and skin, it reduces the risk that your dog will be poisoned after he licks his feet or fur. Use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible and be sure to clean up any antifreeze spills quickly and thoroughly. The American Kennel Club has information on pet friendly de-icers, as does Dogs Naturally Magazine.

You can help protect your dog’s paws by massaging petroleum jelly or other protectants into their paw pads before going outside. Booties provide even better protection and can also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation.  Not all dogs will tolerate them and it’s important that they fit properly.  To complete your pet’s winter wardrobe, consider a sweater or rain coat, but remember, wet sweaters can actually make your dog colder.

Cats are notorious at hiding and a warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it’s deadly. If you know there are feral cats in your neighborhood, make sure you check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to scare them away.

While a car may seem like a safe place for your pet over the winter, a car can act as a refrigerator that holds in the cold, just as it holds summer’s heat, and cause animals to freeze to death. Pets that are young, old, ill, or thin are particularly susceptible to cold environments and should never be left in cold cars.

Now that we’ve covered the outdoors, what can you do inside the home to keep your pet safe and comfortable? Just like you, pets like to be comfortable when sleeping and may change their preferred location based on the season and need for more or less warmth. Give them some options away from cold drafts with warm blankets or beds and if possible, move the beds off the floor.  Be careful with space heaters that can cause burns or be knocked over.  Make sure your traditional wood fireplace has a grate to prevent your pet for exploring or embers from escaping.

Many humans resort to hearty, comforting meals over the winter and some pet owners think a little extra food will help their pet feel better as well.  But just as you will struggle to shed that winter weight in the spring, so will your pet.  It’s best to keep them on the same feeding routine and at their normal, healthy weight.  Outdoor pets do require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to keep them warm, but for most pets, winter is not the time to overeat, even if they tell you otherwise. Cold weather can also lead to dehydration, so  make sure your pet has plenty of water to drink to keep them well hydrated and their skin less dry.

Winter can be a magical time with your pet if you know the risks and how to mitigate them.


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