Winter Safety and Exercise for Pets

I can’t hold out hope for warmer weather any longer. Winter is upon us and with winter come some winter pet hazards and the ever present threat of boredom and inactivity – for you and your pet. This time of year, there’s lots of pet-related information about keeping your pets safe and comfortable in the chilly weather, so I thought I’d share some of that info, as well as some tips for keeping your pet active until the grass starts growing again. Read on for my top winter weather safety and activity pet tips.

  1. Cold: At the very least, make sure your dogs have shelter and an area to stay dry and out of the wind. Indoors is best, but sometimes that just can’t happen. A dog’s cold-tolerance varies – just like with people. Some dogs are accustomed to cold and have a dense fur coat – they do fine, even in subzero temperatures, as long as they’re dry and out of the wind. Dogs that are accustomed to cold temperatures do better than those that haven’t been acclimated. There’s no single temperature number that I can answer with when people ask, “how cold is too cold?” but keeping the pointers in mind can help keep your pet safe and comfy when the snow flies.
  2. Activity: If the subzero weather prevents your usual around-the-block jog with your dog, don’t despair. Many pet stores and shelters offer training classes or doggy social events to help stave off canine boredom. A doggy agility class might be just the thing to doctor ordered to get you and your dog to move a little bit while the mercury dips.

Many pet supply stores like Petco and Petsmart allow dogs in the store (on a leash). Why not bring your dog on the next kibble run and help alleviate some cabin fever? They usually have treats, information and a handy clean-up station for any accidents that might happen.

That treadmill in the basement – you know, the one that you never use? Well, your dog (with the right training, introduction and precautions) could get more use out of it than you do. Start slow, offer lots of treats (try low-calorie ones like carrots instead of the ones that can pack on the pounds in winter) and before you know it, your dog will be stretching their legs and waiting for spring.

  1. Car engines: I haven’t seen one of these for a while, but they used to be very common in the veterinary ER – “fan belt” cats. It’s a natural instinct in cold weather: finding a warm spot like a car engine to curl up. Once the parts start spinning at 5,000 RPM, things can get ugly quickly if you’re a cat. To make sure that there’s no cats cozied up to your engine, knock on the hood or blow the horn before starting up the engine.
  2. Water: A frozen water bowl can lead to dehydration quickly. There are many commercial water bowls than you can buy at pet supply stores. Some have a heating element in the bottom, and there are also heated bases that can keep any bowl warm. Make sure the cords aren’t in a place that a bored dog could chew on. The harsh weather and constant moisture means you‘ll probably have to replace them every other year or so.
  3. Calorie needs go up for outdoor dogs as the mercury goes down: Cold weather means more calories are needed to keep warm if your dog spends time outdoors fighting the elements. Make sure your dogs have a ready supply of high-quality food, and keep track of their body weight. You don’t want your dog to pack on pounds to fight the weather but you don’t want your dog to lose weight in the winter either.

On the flip side, if your dog isn’t running, jumping and playing like they do in warmer weather, scale back the food and treats and scale up the exercise to keep them from gaining pounds that will be hard to shed in warmer months.

  1. Heartworm prevention: Depending on where you live, your pet may or may not need heartworm prevention year-round. If you’re in the South and never get a hard freeze, it’s always best to keep it going every month. If you live further up north and are under snow for a good portion of the year, you may be safe skipping a few months when the mosquitoes are all dead. Heartworm preventative kills the heartworm larvae that your pet picked up in the previous month – that means that the July 1 pill kills the June larvae. It doesn’t work forwards – meaning it works on that day only. Because it’s so easy to get out of the habit and heartworm prevention is easy and cheap, it’s best to just continue it year-round rather than try to save a few bucks and risk forgetting.
  2. Let’s not forget the cats: Winter can be dry and uncomfortable for indoor cats, too. The dry air can lead to a dry, itchy coat. Keep a humidifier going can keep everybody comfortable – maybe even you! Cats should be kept indoors in cold weather and for those that must stay outdoors, the same rules apply as for dogs: they need a place to get out of the wind and rain and stay dry.

With a little planning and some common sense, you and your pets can survive winter, get moving and emerge into spring refreshed and new like a fresh shoot of grass!

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