Winter Weather Tips for Our Furry Friends
Technically, spring is right around the corner, but you wouldn’t know it based on the weather we’ve been experiencing. The winter weather has been challenging for all of us, as we have battled hefty snowfalls, ice, and arctic temperatures. As we take steps to keep our families safe and warm during the cold winter months, it is important to provide extra care to our furry family members too. Here are some tips to ensure your pets stay safe until spring arrives, whenever that may be.Technically, spring is right around the corner, but you wouldn’t know it based on the weather we’ve been experiencing. The winter weather has been challenging for all of us, as we have battled hefty snowfalls, ice, and arctic temperatures. As we take steps to keep our families safe and warm during the cold winter months, it is important to provide extra care to our furry family members too. Here are some tips to ensure your pets stay safe until spring arrives, whenever that may be.
Protection from the Cold
The best place for any companion animal is inside your home. If your pets cannot stay indoors during the winter, it is important that they are protected from the elements in a dry, draft-free enclosed shelter that is large enough for them to sit and lay down, yet small enough to trap their body heat to keep them warm. An enclosure should be elevated a few inches off the ground and turned and/or tilted away from the wind. For even more protection, place the shelter in a garage, shed, or beneath a carport or porch awning. Including bedding in the enclosure is essential to helping your outdoor pet stay warm. The bedding needs to stay dry, as wet bedding can be fatal to a pet. Check the bedding daily and change it if it is damp or wet. A fantastic bedding option is option is straw (not hay), as it repels moisture and retains body heat. Another great option is to use electric heating products. To avoid the risk of burns or electrocution, ensure you use products made especially for pets.
Feeding and Nutrition
The winter weather triggers metabolic changes in your pets that can affect their nutritional needs. “For animals living outdoors, shorter days and colder temperatures set off metabolic/hormonal changes that are essential to survival during the harsh winter,” says Dr. Cary Brenner, DAWS veterinarian. These hormonal/metabolic changes in dogs slow metabolism, conserve calorie expenditure, and promote fat deposition. Cats’ appetites increase as their primitive brain signals them to seek food and store fat in preparation for the increased energy needed to maintain the correct body temperature. For outdoor pets, it is essential to ensure that you increase the amount of food you feed them to accommodate their metabolic needs. “Although indoor pets may not be affected by these hormonal/metabolic changes as much as outdoor pets, there still may be some effect. The problem is that indoor pets don’t face the same challenges as outdoor pets, so it is important to pay attention to your pet’s activity level and adjust food intake accordingly to avoid unhealthy weight gain,” says Dr. Brenner. “Check with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s diet during the winter.” As always, ensure your pet has access to fresh water. You can find inexpensive warmers to keep your outdoor pet’s water from freezing.
Salt and chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate and burn your pet’s paws. To avoid this irritation, use a pet safe product whenever possible. Because it is often hard to avoid these harsh products when walking in public areas, rinse or wipe your pet’s paws if they come in contact with deicers.
Snow can freeze on your pet’s paws causing problems and ice balls can often form on the paws of pets with a lot of fur between their paw pads. Carefully trimming the fur in between paw pads with round-tip scissors or coating them with an edible ointment or oil can help prevent ice balls from forming. Check your pet’s paws frequently to remove any snow or ice balls that have adhered to his paws.
Injuries to your pet’s paws can also happen from stepping on items hidden by snow, sharp edges on ice, and sometimes from toys and tools used to remove snow. “If your pet’s paw gets cut, gently clean the wound with warm water and a mild soap, and apply pressure to stop bleeding,” says Dr. Brenner. “Because your pet’s paw pads are very thick and slow to heal, a deep cut will likely require stitches for proper healing, so check with your veterinarian for the right course of treatment.”
Not only can deicing products irritate your pet’s paws, they can also be toxic when ingested. These products can be ingested when pets lick their paws to clean them or when they lick snow tracked in from winter boots. Rinse or wipe your pet’s paws and consider taking off your boots before coming into the house to avoid exposure to these chemicals.
Antifreeze is incredibly dangerous for pets. “Ingesting even a small amount of antifreeze can have deadly consequences,” says Dr. Brenner. “If not treated, your pet’s kidneys will shut down, and when that happens the prognosis is poor to grave.” To reduce the risk of your pet ingesting antifreeze, treat all brands of antifreeze as highly poisonous. Ensure containers are tightly sealed and stored well away from where animals can come in contact with it. Clean up spills thoroughly and ensure that any leaks are repaired immediately.
While a cat or dog’s fur is a great insulator, it loses its insulating ability when wet because the fur can’t fluff and hold warm air. Wind also strips away the protective layer of warm air trapped by fur next to a pet’s skin. That means wind chill makes the cold temperatures even more dangerous. Because of this, pets, especially those with short fur, may need extra protection from the cold in winter. Dressing your pet in a winter coat or sweater may be a great way to keep her warm. However, if you dress up your pet for their trip outside, monitor them closely and don’t let them wander without supervision. A pet may try to get out of a coat or sweater in a way that can lead to suffocation. Additionally, when these clothes get wet, it can put your pet at risk of frostbite or other dangers. Remove wet clothing immediately. Protective booties on your dog are a great way to protect his paws. Make sure these booties are snug, but not too tight. Otherwise you risk cutting off your dog’s circulation and inviting frostbite.
Keeping Cats Cozy and Safe
Cats are notorious for seeking warm and cozy places to curl up and sleep. This can lead to dangers when the weather gets cold. Cats may hide in the engine of cars or under parked cars as a means to seek shelter from the cold. “It’s a good idea to tap on the hood of your car or honk your car’s horn to shoo a cat away from this dangerous hiding place,” says Dr. Brenner. If you heat your home using a woodstove or fireplace, make sure that there is no access to open flames or sparks as your cat curls up in front of it for a cozy nap. Unbeknownst to many, clothes dryers are also one of the warm and cozy places that cats can find to curl up for a winter nap. “It only takes a second for a cat to jump in a dryer when your back is turned. The consequences can be deadly,” advises Dr. Brenner. To avoid the risk of your cat napping in an unsafe place, ensure she has access to a warm bed away from drafts.
Awareness of the dangers facing pets in the winter is the first step to keeping them safe, healthy, and comfortable. Remember, our pets rely on us for proper care, and if you have any concerns about your pet’s wellbeing as a result of the cold winter weather, contact your veterinarian immediately.