Winter weather has begun. While we can count ourselves lucky that we’re not under several feet of snow, the cold weather and dropping temperatures can still be a risk to our pets. Possibly one of the biggest dangers is getting complacent because it can get pretty warm and sunny during the days, but then the temperatures plummet at night. Inside, we’re not as aware of the falling temperatures, but if you have a pet that is outdoors full time or even for extended periods of time for play or walks, it’s important to be aware of how well your pet is handling the cold.
When the freeze warnings start to go around, here are some good things to remember:
If possible, plan walks and outdoor time during the day while the weather is still mild. If you’re working during the day, this could be one of the benefits of having a pet sitter and walker who can take advantage of the warmer parts of the day so that you and your pet won’t be outside at night when it’s much colder.
Taking walks during the day is also safer because it gets dark earlier in the winter. Even an after work walk will put you in the dusk hour when you and your pet are harder to see. If you are out walking in the evening, consider getting a reflector jacket for yourself and your pet so you’re more visible to motorists.
Extra coverings are another good element for cold walks. If you decide to use extra cat or dog sweaters on your pet, make sure to dry them between each walk so your pet won’t be going out with a wet coat, which would only make him or her colder.
If your pet seems to have a lame or tender foot, check it out. It’s possible that your pet has ice or snow packed between their pads. Exposure to ice and cold weather can also cause cracked, dry, or bleeding pads. If your pet has long hair, you can prevent ice and snow accumulation by clipping any long hair that has worked its way between the toes.
Additionally, you should watch for what sort of ice melt is used on your local roads. Salt and gravel ice melt can be hard for your pet to walk on and it may get between your pet’s toes.
If your area uses chemical deicers to clear and control the roads, make sure to wipe down your pet’s feet after a walk so that there’s no chance of your pet licking its paws and ingesting those chemicals.
If possible, bring your pet inside, especially on those cold nights when the temperature drops below freezing. However, there may be situations in which you cannot bring your pet indoors. If that is the case, you will want to provide your pet sufficient shelter against the cold. This means more than setting out a pre-fabricated dog house, although that can be a good start.
Here are some of the qualities of a good pet shelter:
It is raised a few inches off the ground to prevent heat loss through the ground. The space between the ground and the pet shelter floor should still be enclosed to prevent heat loss through air movement.
The shelter should accommodate your pet’s size and be large enough for them to sit or lie down comfortably yet small enough to conserve your pet’s body heat.
The shelter should not allow drafts but should be well ventilated. The shelter door should not open towards the prevailing winds. The door should also have some heavy covering, such as heavy plastic or burlap, to prevent it opening to wind. An off-center door creates a corner that is more sheltered from direct drafts and wind coming through the opening.
Dryness is key in creating a good shelter. Blankets and towels soak up and spread moisture while other materials, like dry grass hay or shredded newspaper, can absorb moisture and keep it contained while the rest of the pile stays dry and warm. Also, your pet should be able to nestle down in to their bedding for better insulation. Simply sitting on top of matted down hay or newsprint will not be warm enough. Any bedding materials should be changed regularly, even daily, if needed.
A good shelter also affords access to food and unfrozen water. This could mean changing out the water dish multiple times if it is cold enough to freeze. For outdoor pets, you can also increase their food intake. The additional calories will help offset and even increase the energy your pet needs to burn in order to stay warm.
Remember to stay dry, warm, and well fed and hydrated this winter!