Doggy, it’s Cold Outside! Cold Weather Pet Tips

Every winter, we get lots of folks asking for advice on what to do to help their pets make it safely and comfortably through the winter. Winter can be just as hard, if not harder on pets than it can be for you. To help you help your pet, we are reissuing some of high points from articles we have put up in the past on how to help your pets cope with the cold. So light a fire, pour some hot cocoa and get ready for the snow to fly (except for you lucky folks in Florida — you can just go about your business).

  • Cold: File this under “DUH,” but winter is cold. Cold and pets don’t mix well in many cases. At the very least, make sure your dogs have an area to stay dry and out of the wind. Indoors would be best, but sometimes that can’t happen. A dog’s degree of cold tolerance can vary, just like with a person. Some dogs that are accustomed to cold and have a dense fur coat will do fine, even into the single digits, if they can stay dry and out of the breeze. A little Chihuahua with no fur and no tolerance to the cold, however, won’t. Dogs that are acclimated to cold conditions will do better than those that haven’t been gradually exposed. There is no single number I can answer when people ask how old is too old, but keeping the above guidelines in mind can help keep your pooch safe and comfortable when the snow flies. The AVMA has some good cold weather information.
  • H-two-oh, no! Make sure the water doesn’t freeze. Many dogs are OK outdoors in the winter, as long as they can stay dry and out of the wind. But a frozen water bowl can lead to thirst and dehydration quickly. There are commercial water bowls you can buy at pet stores that have a heating element in the bottom — and heated bases that keep any old bowl warm and unfrozen. Just make sure that the electrical cords are not in a place that a bored dog could chew on them. In my experience, the harsh weather and constant moisture means you probably will have to replace them every other year or so.
  • Pet fashionistas: Our skinny, old pit bull used to wear a leopard print jacket around in the winter months. She looked quite the diva! A jacket can really help keep your pet comfortable in the cold weather. Make sure you get one that isn’t just for looks — look for good padding, a sturdy buckle and a good fit. Some dogs will wear them happily, others will slip them off and shred them, so you might have a supervised trial run before you send your pet out to the elements.
  • Match the calories to the thermometer: Cold weather can mean more calories burned to stay warm. Make sure your dog has a ready supply of high-quality food and track their weight. You don’t want to pack on pounds to fight the cold (there are too many overweight pets out there already!), but you don’t want your dog to lose weight in the winter. Save the diets for spring and make sure your dog gets enough calories to fight the cold and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be on the lookout for winter poisons: A lot of folks use this time of year to change the antifreeze in their cars. As a consequence, we see cases of antifreeze ingestion in dogs rise when the weather turns cold. Antifreeze is a deadly toxin that causes kidney damage, usually irreversible and fatal. It can be treated, but only before the damage has been done. Make sure to clean up all spills of antifreeze and keep containers well away from the reach of pets.
  • Let’s not forget the cats: Winter can be dry and uncomfortable for cats that are indoors. The dry air can make their coats dry, too, and that can itch. Keeping a humidifier going can help maintain the right moisture balance and keep everybody comfortable — maybe even you! Cats should be indoors in cold, wet weather and for those that can’t, the same rules apply as for dogs: they have to have a place to get out of the elements and stay dry and out of drafts.

 With a little planning and a lot of common sense, you and your pets can survive winter and emerge into spring like a fresh shoot of grass!

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