Keeping your pets warm and safe is an important part of your winter weather routine. Take a look at these 10 points to help make your pets’ snowy season happy and healthy.
1) Though many cat owners keep their felines indoors year-round, cold temperatures keep dogs and indoor/outdoor cats inside for longer periods of time. With heaters, furnaces and stoves keeping things cozy many pet owners overlook that this can cause some dehydration issues. Make sure that water bowls are kept full at all times and watch for signs of itchy dry skin.
2) Dogs and their people need to get outdoors for exercise and routine walks, but colder temperatures can cause frostbite and hypothermia. Consider shorter but more frequent walks to get the same exercise without harm. For dogs that like to spend more time outside, pay special attention to chill factors in addition to temperatures. Supply your pets with a shelter that allows them to get out of snow, sleet, wind and rain. Make a thick insulated bed that is raised off the ground by a few inches in the shelter and be sure to include a dish that will not allow water to freeze.
3) There are so many different types of ice-melting products being sprinkled on sidewalks and roads and some may cause injuries to the sensitive foot pads of our four-legged friends. Use a warm, wet washcloth to wipe your dogs’ feet when coming indoors after a neighborhood walk. Disposable aloe wipes are another great option to clean off salty feet. If you notice excessive foot licking or any limping, look closely at the foot pads, as ice or cinders may have caused a cut.
4) Growing rapidly in popularity, outdoor dog clothing now offers readily available selections that are not just for fashion. Donning a sweater or jacket in cold weather is a great idea especially for small breeds, puppies, older dogs and short-haired dogs. The misconception that dogs and cats do not get cold because they have a fur coat has been disproved for years.
5) Both cats and dogs can be tempted by the slightly sweet taste of antifreeze found in garages, storage sheds and barns, especially this time of year. The ingredient ethylene glycol is also found in windshield de-icers, brake fluid and motor oil, and as little as 1 teaspoon for cats and 1 tablespoon for dogs can be fatal. Noticing signs of your pet acting as if it were drunk, having excessive thirst and unusual drooling are some of the initial symptoms of ethylene glycol poisoning. If you suspect your pet has consumed this chemical, immediate veterinary intervention is necessary and should not be delayed. This is one of many reasons not to allow your pets to roam off of a leash.
6) Automatic start-ups on new cars is a nice addition for freezing winter days, but there is a drawback worth noting. The previously warm engine is an ideal shelter for wild animals as well as cats that have strayed, and a sudden engine start up can be disastrous. Before starting your car engine, honk the horn once or twice and wait a minute to cause under-the-hood refuges to flee.
7) Many pet health conditions become doubly life threatening during harsh winter weather. Diabetic, thyroid compromised, arthritic, pregnant, very young and very old pets are much more sensitive to cold, as their immune systems and body thermostats are struggling to maintain heat. If you suspect that your pet is not acting “normally,” keep him warm and call a veterinarian as soon as possible.
8) Particularly for dogs that stay in a house kennel for the day, check to make sure they have the ability to move closer to or away from heat sources if they are located near by. It is best to locate the kennel a safe distance away from stoves and heaters. Dogs and cats that roam in the house should not be in rooms that have heaters with exposed elements that can be pushed over and potentially cause a fire.
9) Keep and extra supply of water and food for your pets in addition to any routine medications your pet may need in case of power outages and road closures. Extreme weather conditions can leave veterinary offices short-staffed, handling emergencies and unable to refill prescriptions immediately. Be prepared with at least five days of fresh food, water, treats and medications to keep your pet safe during an emergency.
10) Microchips are a great idea for many reasons and winter weather is one of the times that these chips come in handy. A simple insertion of the tiny chip under their skin never needs to be replaced and does not cause any irritation. If you are traveling or delayed at work and a neighbor is helping care of your pets at home, animals can sometimes panic and escape. A micro chip will help veterinary hospitals, animal control officers and shelters identify your pet immediately and put them in contact with you.
Pets besides cats and dogs, such as guinea pigs, ferrets, gerbils, mice, rats, rabbits and hamsters can be prompted to enter into a hibernation state when temperatures begin to drop below 60 degrees. Check with a veterinarian regarding species specific temperature requirements but remember that regardless of the season, any animals under your care needs dry bedding, food and water all the time. Habitats must be free of drafts and a safe distance from fans, heaters and air conditioners. This information is also true for pet birds and reptiles where any temperature changes can rapidly and dramatically effect their health.
Any farm animals including horses, cows and chickens all need a dry and draft free shelter with room for each animal to lie down in or perch, a ready supply of fresh dry feed and a constant water source that does not freeze. Having to travel to a water or food source from the shelter burns energy that animals need to keep warm in freezing temperatures. Keep the animals resources close to each other and check the animals supplies and their health daily. Watch for any signs of distress such as limping, listlessness, wounds and loss of appetite.
Many local shelters and rescue organizations can offer advice and assistance with keeping your pets safe this winter. Remember too that most shelters are very happy to take the help of volunteer time and donations to make the lives of homeless dogs and cats healthy and happy until forever homes are found.
Terry Hannum is a licensed veterinary technician.