The coldest months of the year can be just as tough on pets as they are on people. There are several primary concerns pet owners should be aware of so they can prepare accordingly and keep their beloved furry companions safe.
Provide appropriate shelter and clothing
Pets should stay inside as much as possible when temperatures reach or drop below freezing. If you take care of exclusively or largely outdoor pets or your pets must spend long periods outdoors, create a waterproof, windproof structure with ample clean, dry bedding. Pet clothing may seem silly, but it’s critical for keeping pets dry and safe in the winter. As long as the clothing is comfortable, a sweater, coat, or booties go a long way toward maintaining a safe body temperature and shielding pets from snow, ice, and wind.
Towel off wet pets right away
Following a wet walk or a bath, towel dry pets immediately afterward so they don’t catch a chill. Unless pets are frequently dirty or smelly, reduce the number of baths you give so their skin doesn’t dry out and they don’t spend as much time with wet fur. When you bathe your pets, use a pet-friendly moisturizing shampoo and rinse.
Protect pets’ feet from ice, salt, and harsh chemicals
It’s just as important for dogs to get out for walks in winter as it is during the rest of the year. Most dogs don’t mind taking a walk on a cool, brisk day. However, it’s important to take a few precautions so the walk doesn’t do more harm than good. Pet paw pads are tough but may get worn down or become sensitive in extreme temperatures or due to ice melt exposure.
Outfitting pets with booties provides the best protection from winter weather damage. Wipe off pets’ feet as soon as they come indoors. Check for little bits of ice and other debris that may get trapped on the feet or in between the toes. Trapped debris is uncomfortable, and pets may get sick if they ingest it. Inspect the paws for cracks and redness as well. Massaging petroleum jelly or another paw protectant into the pads minimizes cold weather damage.
Keep fur long
Longer coats provide more warmth. Keep long-haired dogs trimmed to limit snarls and risk of ice and salt clinging to the fur. Make sure to trim the hair between the toes. If your pet has naturally short hair or received a haircut just before the first cold snap, put him in a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck for walks and trips outside for the bathroom. The clothing should offer coverage from the base of the tail all the way to the belly.
Provide a warm place to sleep
Designate a toasty place in the home for pets to sleep that is off the floor and away from drafts. Create a cozy bed with a warm blanket or pillow.
Offer extra food and water
Pets often burn more calories in the winter because trying to stay warm depletes their energy. Increase their food quantity slightly, and put out a couple extra water bowls so they stay hydrated and their skin doesn’t become dry or flaky. Check the water dishes on a regular basis to ensure the water doesn’t freeze. Avoid using metal water bowls in winter, as a pet’s tongue may freeze to the metal.
Create new sources of stimulation
When pets are cooped up during the winter, they may become bored. Consider using a puzzle feeder or a treat-dispensing toy. Many pets enjoy their food and treats more when they have to work for it. You can also turn treat time into a game in which pets must find the treats before they can eat them. Introduce a few new toys, rotating out older toys to keep them engaged and interested. Use your time indoors to work on obedience skills or new tricks.
Include pets in an evacuation plan
When you live in a climate with a high risk of blizzards and other severe winter weather, it’s recommended to create a winter storm plan. Don’t forget to plan for your pets. Leaving a pet in a home alone in a prolonged power outage may be dangerous. If you plan to stay with family, make sure you can bring along pets. If you plan to stay in a hotel, locate several pet-friendly hotels.
The basic guideline for keeping pets protected during the winter is that if it’s too cold outside for you and your family, most likely it’s too cold for your pets. Limit outdoor exposure, bringing dogs back inside right after a bathroom trip so they don’t get disoriented or develop hypothermia. When you’re taking your dog along in the car, don’t ever leave him alone in the car, even for a few minutes.
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