Pet owners shiver when winter weather drives temperatures way down. What special precautions must animal lovers take to care for their furry companions in frigid winter conditions?
Here are 10 tips for caring for furry house pets in the coldest weather of the year.
Allow house pets’ fur to grow longer in colder months.
Animals naturally grow denser, longer coats in the winter. Pet owners that regularly clip their animal companions can help these creatures by letting their winter coats grow in. Closely clipped house pets may require jackets, sweaters, or coats for colder weather.
Give house pets extra walks, but shorter walks, if needed.
Housebroken pets, such as dogs, still require potty breaks in winter, of course. Frequent, but shorter, outings are ideal during the coldest weather. Furry pets tend to lose body heat quickly through the pads of their feet, so it is important to minimize the time they must spend standing on cold, hard surfaces, such as concrete or bricks.
Also, the outdoors may be downright confusing to indoor pets in winter. Snow-covered yards, ponds, and roads may be somewhat unrecognizable. Pets may be safer, if they are leashed or fenced during such times, to avoid accidents or wandering.
Consider keeping house pets indoors in colder weather.
Except for dogs and other pets who potty outdoors, house pets may do best to remain inside on the most frigid winter days and nights. Cats, guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits, and other small domesticated animals may prefer this choice.
If house pets are allowed outdoors in winter weather, humans must be careful to keep track of them. Animals may naturally search out warm spots, such as under vehicles. It is important to look under cars, trucks, trailers, snowmobiles, snow blowers, and other machines and beep horns (if possible) before starting those engines.
Keep pets away from antifreeze spills.
Did someone just refill the wiper fluid or antifreeze in the family car? This sticky solution is toxic to animals. Pets must not be allowed to sip antifreeze spills or to step into puddles of it and then lick their paws.
Most newer antifreeze products contain a bittering agent, making them unpalatable to animals. Pet owners should try to purchase these, if possible.
Skip chemical deicing products in areas where pets will walk.
Pet owners should opt for basic rock salt, play sand, or non-treated basic kitty litter to add traction to walkways. Deicers containing chemicals may be harmful to animals.
Clean house pets’ paws carefully after outings.
Gently brush all snow, ice, and mud from all four paws. Wipe paws thoroughly with a warm, damp cloth to remove sand or salt residue.
Apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly on paw pads, if they begin to show evidence of drying, cracking, or peeling.
Offer house pets plenty of water during winter weather.
Frosty air and wicked wind chills can quickly dehydrate animals. Breathing chilly air can be difficult on pets’ respiratory systems as well. Even after brief excursions outdoors, domesticated animals need extra water to drink. (Yes, this means these pets will need to go out again, despite the wintry blast, but that’s part of an animal lover’s commitment to caring for such companions.)
Check house pets for signs of frostbite.
Pets may suffer from frostbite rather quickly in frigid weather. Exposed areas, such as ears and feet, are particularly vulnerable to frostbite.
Watch pets for signs of paler or even blackened skin, frosty coverings (especially on a pet’s paws, ears, or face), and excessive shivering. Frostbite on a house pet is a definite reason to call the veterinarian.
Watch for symptoms of hypothermia in house pets.
Hypothermia is a definite danger for animals in winter. Symptoms of hypothermia include dilated pupils, pale gums, uncontrollable shivering (even after a few moments indoors), weak pulse, staggering, dizziness and unconsciousness.
Although mild hypothermia may be alleviated by warming up a pet, severe hypothermia in house pets requires professional veterinary attention.
Avoid leaving house pets in parked vehicles or garages in cold weather.
Unheated garages and parked vehicles may offer shelter from winter winds, but these environments can become dangerously cold in mere moments during frigid weather. Housepets are better left at home or in a cozy kennel, while owners are out and about for work, errands, or other purposes.
Even outdoor pets may need to be welcomed indoors in the worst winter weather. Hunting dogs, for example, who live in outdoor shelters year-round, may have to spend a few frigid days in a basement or heated garage until the mercury rises again.
Caring for pets can be trickier in winter weather when blustery winds and falling temperatures make it nearly impossible to spend time outdoors. But these ten precautions for pet owners can help keep animals healthy until warmer days finally arrive.