Most pet owners are relatively well versed in keeping their dog or cat safe during the hot summer months, but not everyone gives the cold of winter much thought. Some people make the mistake of simplifying the needs of family pets, assuming they’re less vulnerable to any challenges of the cold weather elements. However, some of the biggest dangers are the ones you don’t even realize are threats to your pets’ health.
A dog’s or cat’s fur coat provides some insulation, but for most domesticated pets, it’s not much more help than a single layer of clothing. If you wouldn’t brave the winter in just one layer of clothing, your pets probably shouldn’t either; they need to have a warm and dry shelter. Unless you have a heavy-coated breed, such as a husky, your dog really shouldn’t be kept outside during the winter. And no pet should be kept outside if temperatures are freezing or below freezing.
Walking your dog can also pose hazards you probably haven’t considered. For short-haired dogs, put your ego aside and dress them in a sweater to keep them warm. If the sweater gets wet, go home and remove it as soon as possible because dogs get just as cold in wet clothes as you would. You should also avoid walking across ice and shorten your walks on colder, wetter days or if it’s snowing.
Dogs’ and cats’ paws should be wiped down after they’ve been outside to make sure any ice is removed and that there isn’t any antifreeze or other toxic chemical stuck to them. Your pet’s paws can also end up damaged from exposure to the cold ground. Make it a habit to do regular checks of paw pads. If they are cracked or bleeding, take your pet to a veterinarian to check for frostbite and get the appropriate medical care right away.
The cold can exacerbate some pet health problems, such as arthritis. If you have older cats or dogs, be a thoughtful family member and make it easier on them to get around the house or climb into their favorite spots. Give them a lift whenever you can, or consider putting a small set of stairs in place for them. Pay attention to where your pets spend their time sleeping or napping. They’ll let you know where the warmer, more comfortable places are, and you can set up their bedding there.
Cats have a tendency to seek out the warmest nooks and crannies. The problem with this is that one of the most common spots they gravitate to is the warm car engine. Before you start your car, do a quick check around the tires and under the car. Call out to see if they come out from any dangerous hiding place.
Fireplaces, space heaters and candles can also be hazardous if you don’t keep an eye on them. Space heaters and candles can be tipped over by both dogs and cats, so don’t leave them unattended. Fireplaces should have safety screens to keep pets out and fire in. Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home as well, which will keep more than just furry family members safe.
Take pets for their annual checkup to make sure they’re in the best health they can be. Medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart problems or kidney disease, can make it harder for pets to regulate their body temperature.
Keep your pet well fed, too, because a frail, underweight pet is guaranteed to be a cold pet. Just be aware of any discomfort your dog or cat may be trying to communicate to you in the form of whimpering, shivering, shaking, burrowing or hiding.
It’s also a warning sign when pets seem weak or lethargic.