You check your car’s antifreeze level, you change your furnace filter, and you stick that funky plastic wrap over your windows, but do you remember to winterize your pets? The winter season, with festive holidays, cozy fires, and pretty snow showers, can also be a fun time for your pet. However, the winter months may present unique hazards to your pet, and you’ll want to be prepared.
Your first step should be to make sure that your pet has had a recent complete physical exam by your veterinarian. All pets should be examined once yearly, and older pets, especially those with chronic conditions, should be examined every six months. Also, make sure your pet is eating healthy food and is on a monthly parasite preventive all year long. Once your pet is healthy, well-fed, and parasite-free, you can follow the advice listed below to ensure that she has a safe winter season.
Keep pets indoors.
Outdoor pets can get lost, stolen, injured, or even struck by a car, so keeping dogs and cats inside is a good idea all year long. Moreover, during the winter, they face even more potential dangers. So if possible, keep your dogs and cats in your home.
If pets must stay outside, take special measures to keep them safe and warm.
Provide a warm, dry shelter.
You can purchase or build a dog or cat house that has insulated walls. (Learn how to build your own outdoor cat shelter at http://www.erubbermaid.com/roughneck-homes?mid=57 ).
For bedding, use fresh straw. Avoid using blankets or towels, as they will retain moisture and make your pet cold. Make sure that the opening to your pet’s shelter is big enough for him to get in, but not so big that wind, rain, and snow can get in.
Provide constant access to clean water.
It’s easy to remember that dogs and cats need water on a hot summer day, but they need water during cold months too. Cold, windy, dry days can cause an outdoor pet to dehydrate quickly. Check your pet’s water supply twice daily.
Outside pets that are not confined to a pen or kennel will take shelter in some pretty peculiar spots. Dogs can get trapped in drainage culverts, sheds, and garages. Cats will climb up into car and truck engine compartments to find warmth. Get into the habit of tapping on the hood or honking the horn before starting your car or truck.
Frozen ponds pose a danger to pets.
We teach our children to stay off of iced-over ponds and rivers, and we should keep our pets, especially our dogs, off the ice too. If there is a frozen body of water near your home, keep your dog under close supervision, ideally on a leash. Dogs can fall through the ice and freeze or drown.
Take special precautions with small dogs, dogs with sparse hair coats, and elderly dogs.
Little dogs lose body heat quickly. Dogs that have little to no hair have no protection from the cold. For these dogs, a good rule of thumb is that if you need a coat, then your pet needs a coat. Old dogs frequently suffer from arthritis. Cold weather makes your old dog’s joints especially sore and stiff. Keep your senior dog inside as much as possible, give her a coat and dog booties to wear outside; don’t send her outside wet (or dry her off quickly if she becomes wet while outside), and make sure she has a soft bed on which to lie.
Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite most commonly affects the tips of the ears, the toes, the tip of the nose, and the tip of the tail. Skin that has frostbite may appear very pale or blue-tinged. Eventually it may turn bright red or even black. The skin may peel, and the hair may fall out. Your veterinarian can examine your dog or cat and determine if she has frostbite.
A dog with hypothermia will shiver, seem weak, may collapse, will take weak shallow breaths, and will seem incoherent (like he’s in a daze). If you can safely use a rectal thermometer, you can take your dog’s temperature. A normal dog temperature is between 99.5°F and 102.5°F. If your dog’s temperature is less than 99°F, place him on a warm, dry bed, inside your house, cover him with warm blankets (fresh out of the dryer would be perfect), and try to get him to drink some warm water or eat warm canned food. If your dog’s temperature is less than 90 F, take him to your nearest veterinary emergency hospital. Your cat will probably not let you safely take her temperature! If you suspect that your cat is hypothermic, take her to the local veterinary emergency hospital right away.
Learn about winter toxins.
Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is very toxic, and, unfortunately, dogs and cats like its sweet taste. Less toxic antifreeze products contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol, but these products are still toxic if your pet consumes a large amount. Some antifreeze products have taste-aversive additives that are supposed to make antifreeze taste bad. Don’t be naïve about these products. We all know that dogs (and some cats) will eat anything, regardless of how foul it tastes! Salts and deicers can be toxic to your pets as well, so never let your dog or cat eat snow from roads or sidewalks. If you wonder if a product is safe for your pet, or if you are worried that your pet may have been exposed to a toxin, you can contact the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or via their website, http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/.
Inside is best, but there are winter dangers in your home too.
Just like people, pets are susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure you have a functioning carbon monoxide detector in your home. Space heaters can be knocked over by a playful dog, or your cat may bat his favorite toy underneath the heater, sparking a fire. Holiday candles can singe cat whiskers and also pose a fire threat.
The winter months can be a fun time of the year for you and your pets. You just need to take some extra precautions to keep your pets warm and safe. With these tips and your love, your fur-kids will enjoy a safe and happy winter!