When the temperature drops, you bundle up your kids and wear your warmest coat. But what about your pets?
Even if your dog spends most of the time in a warm house, he needs protection from frigid temperatures when he goes outside. Not all dogs require storebought coats, but all require a little extra attention.
It's important to exercise your dog all winter long, so make sure he's warm when he goes outside.
Cats prefer the indoors during the cold weather and it's a good idea to keep them inside if you can.
Cold Weather Hazards
Most dogs have coats thick or long enough to protect them from the cold on walks and short outdoor excursions. Those with very short hair (such as greyhounds and chihuahuas) need extra protection when the temperatures are well below freezing.
If you aren't sure if your dog needs a coat, watch him carefully when you walk him. Shivering and less-than-usual eagerness are good indications that his coat is not thick enough.
Icy terrain and salted roads and sidewalks are hazardous to dogs. Ice balls and salt can get into their footpads. If your dog stops during his walk or limps, look for ice balls lodged between his pads.
If your dog walks over salted surfaces, wipe his feet with a damp cloth when you arrive home. The salt can irritate his footpads and cause serious discomfort. Watch for excessive foot licking and whining to determine if your pet has sore feet.
Antifreeze is toxic. We need it for our cars but spilled puddles of the evidently sweet-tasting stuff are tempting to animals looking for food or water. If your pet laps up antifreeze take him to the vet immediately.
Warm car engines beckon cats looking for a cozy spot on a cold day. Bang on the hood or slam your car door before you turn the ignition key if you suspect your or a neighbor's cat might be sleeping in your engine. The fan wheel can quickly kill a cat.
Cold Weather Habitats
If your pet lives outdoors, be sure he has adequate shelter. A small shed or doghouse is appropriate but it should be watertight and elevated a few inches off the ground.
The doghouse should be large enough for the dog to sit up, turn around, and stretch out but small enough to hold in his body heat. Turn it so it faces south, if you can. This way, north winds won't blow through the door.
Line the shelter with warm bedding such as a blanket or dog bed. If the dog chews blankets, line the house with straw or hay. (Cedar chips, while fine for hamsters, can irritate dog skin.)
Cold Weather Nutrition
During the cold months, pets need extra calories to stay warm. Make sure both cats and dogs get more food than normal, particularly if they spend more than short periods outside.
Provide your pet with plenty of fresh water. Dehydration is as likely during cold weather as very hot. Don't let outdoor water bowls freeze. Heated dishes are sold in pet stores, which might be a solution for some dog owners.
Contrarily, if your pets spend very little time outside or exercising during the winter, cut back on their food to prevent weight gain.
Springtime will arrive one day, but in the meantime, make sure your faithful companions are happy and warm.