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Cold Weather Tips to Keep Your Pet Safe and Warm

Winter is on its way, and the cold weather just around the corner. Here are some tips on keeping pets healthy, safe, and warm through the cold months.

Feeding

Many pets don't get as much exercise during the cold winter months as they do during the rest of the year. It's tempting to feed them more; most pets love to eat, and since the cold weather may prevent some pets from exercising outdoors for as long as they normally do, eating might just end up becoming a new hobby.

As fun as it is to snack lots, it's a bad idea. Extra weight on your pet can lead to joint problems or respiratory problems, and can cause issues like arthritis to become worse. Dogs experiencing weakness due to age, illness, or injury will also have a harder time getting up or walking if they're carrying excess weight.

People often find it hard to feed less, and pets may not feel satisfied if fed less. Try substituting some of your pet's food with veggies like green beans, or pureed pumpkin... or when feeding treats, look for lower-calorie treats.

Check Their Paws

Snow and ice can build up between a dog or cat's paw pads. This can get very uncomfortable for them - imagine walking with little iceballs or snowballs stuck between your toes or to the bottoms of your feet! Check your pet's paws regularly when outside, and gently remove snow or ice as needed. When you get home you can use a warm, damp towel to help ease off any remaining bits.

Trimming the fur between the paw pads can help to minimize the clumping of snow and ice in between the paws. The use of paw wax is another option.

Rub Them Down

Dogs can accumulate snow and ice build-up in their coats just from walking through or playing in the snow. Whatever they don't shake off should be gently wiped off with towel, before rubbing the dog dry. A wet coat can make them feel chilly, even inside. If needed, a hair dryer on its lowest setting can be gently used to help dry them off. Don't use a higher setting as the pet's delicate skin can burn easily.

Protection from Common Winter Chemicals

Road salt and de-icers are commonly used to keep roads and sidewalks clear of ice. These chemicals, though, can burn a pet's paws. Wipe down pet's paws with a warm, damp towel when you get home, and then dry them as well. Cats and shorter dogs may also need their bellies and chests wiped down as well.

Antifreeze is another chemical commonly used in winter. Clean up any spills promptly and thoroughly. If your pet consumes even a small amount, consult your vet immediately - even a tiny quantity can be fatal.

Winter Walks

Winter dog walking

A beautiful, snowy day can be a lot of fun for a walk with the dog. Here are a few things to watch for while enjoying a winter walk.

Stay away from frozen water

Every year, it seems there are a number of stories about dogs needing to be rescued after falling through thin ice. Don't let dogs onto frozen bodies of water even if the water looks solidly frozen; it only takes one thin patch of ice for a disaster to occur.

Be alert to hazards

Slipping is a concern, for both pedestrians and for vehicles. Give cars more room to stop when crossing the street with your dog.

If you're hiking in a natural area, remember that fallen trees, sharp rocks, and all the stuff that was there during the summer is still there - just hidden by the snow.

Senior dogs may need a little help navigating slippery sections. A mobility harness or sling is an easy way for owners to help lend some stability and support.

Keep them warm

Dogs at higher risk of getting hypothermia - namely, young, old, ill, thin, or short-haired dogs - may need to wear a jacket and/or boots to protect their paws (see below) in extreme cold temperatures. Jackets should ideally be made of waterproof material and lined with some type of warm fabric. Check the jacket during the walk to make sure it isn't wet; wet fur and skin can make the dog feel much colder.

Know your pet's limitations

Lots of dogs really enjoy playing in the snow. Just remember that it can be much more strenuous exercise, especially if the snow is deep... even if all you're doing is walking.

Dogs with conditions like arthritis may find that the cold weather makes their condition worse. Elderly dogs may find it harder to navigate slippery sidewalks or trails. An assist harness can be useful for those dogs who need a little extra help.

You may end up having to shorten your walks in the winter. Some indoor playtime can be a good addition to keep pets from getting bored during the cold winter months. You don't necessarily need a lot of room to keep pets entertained; cats enjoy interactive toys (like the entertaining Da Bird) and many dogs find nose work games a lot of fun.

Help Prevent Slips and Falls

Avoid icy areas or those with wet, slippery snow. If that's not possible and you regularly walk where slipping is a concern, consider getting your dog some booties. No doubt that some people will think it sounds totally ridiculous; but boots are more than a fashion statement - they can help dogs of all ages with traction on snow or ice, protect paws from extreme cold, and also shield paw pads from getting cut on ice. Many varieties of boots are available, so make sure you get some that are specifically made for the purpose you need them for. Boots should also fit properly; too big, and dogs can trip over them ... too small, and they'll be uncomfortable and constricting.

Some dogs absolutely won't tolerate booties, no matter how hard you try. In that case, try a product like Musher's Secret to help protect their paws from the cold.

Watch for Hypothermia

It's natural to think that our pets can easily stay warm even in our cold winters because of their fur coat. For most breeds, that's just not true. Pets are susceptible to hypothermia just like we are. In particular, pets who are at higher risk include those who are young or elderly, those who don't have much body fat, or who have certain medical conditions like hypothyroidism. Shorter pets can also get colder, faster, because more of their bodies may be in contact with the snow. Prolonged exposure to the cold, or being wet, both increase the risk of hypothermia.

Violent shivering is one of the first signs of hypothermia. This can be followed by listless or unresponsive behaviour, slowed breathing, shallow breathing, or a slower heart rate. If you lift their lips you may notice that the gums appear to be pale. Prolonged exposure to the cold can also lead to frostbite. The areas most at risk for frostbite include the tips of the ears, the tail, the paw pads, and the nose.

To treat hypothermia, immediately bring your pet inside and place them in a warm, dry spot. Pets should be warmed up slowly. Throw blankets in the clothes dryer for a few minutes to heat them up - while waiting, dry off the pet as best you can using a towel or a hair dryer on the lowest possible setting. Wrap the pet in warm blankets (not hot!). Hot water bottles are also useful (if you don't have one, use plastic pop bottles). Fill the bottles with warm water and then wrap them in a towel before placing them against the pet. Don't use them without a towel as pets can easily be burned even if the bottle doesn't feel that hot to you. Place the towel-wrapped bottles against the groin or by the armpits where there's less fur. Then call a veterinarian for more advice. Depending on the condition of the animal, the vet may advise that the pet be brought into the clinic for treatment or monitoring.

Cold Cars

It can be just as dangerous to leave dogs in a cold car as it is to leave them in a hot one. A car left parked outside in the extreme cold can turn into freezer in short order. Pets who are young, old, or ill are particularly at risk for becoming hypothermic - but all pets can end up in danger, and should never be left unattended in a car in the cold. When possible, pets should be left at home where they're warm and comfortable.

Beds and Comfy Sleeping Spots

Dogs with arthritis may find that the cold weather causes them more discomfort. A warm, soft but supportive bed (like a memory foam dog bed) is sure to be appreciated. Ask your vet what else you can do to help keep your furry friend more comfortable over the winter.

Pets are all different in what they prefer for comfort. Put a few comfortable beds around the house, in varying locations and with different types of bedding. For example, pile a warm fleece on one bed, place another bed in a sunny spot by the window, and yet another in a location well away from windows, doors or potential cold drafts. Allow your pet to choose whichever bed he likes most at the moment.

 

"Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things."
(Kurt Vonnegut)

 

 

 

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