Winter temperatures, snow, and ice can pose hazards for our pets. But with a few easy steps you can keep your furry, feathered, or scaley friends safe and comfortable and still get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
1. Dress them up
Small and older dogs will probably want to spend less time outside in the cold weather, so let their behavior guide you on your excursions and return indoors if you see shivering or lifting up their feet. Short-coated animals may appreciate a coat when going outside to play or eliminate. Fleece is a good material that holds warmth and dries quickly, and wool stays warm even when wet. If your dog picks up his feet a lot when outside, try booties. Booties will protect their feet from salt, ice, and snow. Avoid shaving your long-haired pet during the colder months of the year. Instead, let their fur grow to allow them to stay warm in a natural way.
2. Wash Those Pads
During the winter, sidewalks, parking lots, and the streets are often covered in road salt and other chemicals to melt snow. These can irritate the skin of the paws, or cause nausea and mouth sores if licked off. Fur can trap icicles between the toes as well. Wash and dry or wipe off paws with a wet washcloth once you come back inside. You can apply petroleum jelly to your pet’s pawpads if they become dry or cracked.
3. Provide shelter
A snug house with straw, heated beds, and heated water bowls provide shelter from the elements to outdoor animals, whether cat, dog, rabbit, or chicken. Check any electric components daily to make sure they're functioning and decrease risk of electrical fire. Outdoor pets may need some extra food to maintain their weight since they're burning more calories to keep warm. Lastly, winter is a good time to evaluate your reptile's habitat - make sure humidity and temperature labels are appropriate for the species and your pet's winter needs. Hibernating or brumating creatures should have their weight checked regularly to make sure their metabolism has slowed correctly.
4. Avoid Antifreeze
Antifreeze has a sweet taste and is very tempting to dogs and cats - but extremely poisonous. It causes kidney failure and death if not treated quickly. Keep pets away from stored antifreeze and avoid any contact with leaked antifreeze until the area is properly cleaned. If you think your pet may have been exposed to antifreeze, seek veterinary care immediately. Signs of antifreeze poisoning include: drunken behavior, wobbling or falling over, lethargy, vomiting, change to urination (too much and then later too little), diarrhea, and depression.
5. Check those cars
Outdoor cats can find their way under the hood of a parked car to seek warmth and shelter. Banging on your hood before you start your car can wake up any sleeping cats and gives them the chance to make a quick exit. Be just as cautious about leaving your pet unattended in the car in the cold weather as in the heat - heat stroke gets all the publicity, but a cold car can cause hypothermia in a small or short-coated pet.
6. Keep up the exercise
Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you can't have fun! Take walks in wooded areas that are more sheltered from the wind. Play indoor games with your pets, teach them new tricks, find agility or flyball classes, or invite friends with pets over for a playdate. All these will give you and your pet some much needed mental stimulation and can help stave off those winter blues.
By doing what you can to keep your animals warm, protect their feet, and avoid toxins, you can make sure winter is just as enjoyable for your pets as it is for you.