Keeping our pets safe and warm in winter
By Leslie Phelan
As temperatures dip well below the freezing mark, it’s good to embrace the frosty weather and still stay active with your pup. That being said, cold weather can be dangerous for your dog, and so it’s important to stay flexible and know when to shorten the walks, dress appropriately, and be cautious of common winter-time accidents that could happen to anyone with pets in their care. As the cold snaps come through, knowing how to play it safe in extremely cold temperatures could end up saving your pet’s life.
Make them easy to ID:
Ever wonder why so many pets seem to go missing during the winter months? Well, outside of avalanche and bobcat attack-prone areas, the reason is because snow covers tracks, and obscures the landmark scents that usually guide a pet home. The best solution to this problem is to keep their collar tags updated with your phone number and address. Microchipping them also helps, but since the neighbor that will likely chance upon your lost dog probably doesn’t have a chip reader in their home or car, a well-fitting collar with your contact info legibly inscribed is your best bet for a speedy recovery of a lost pet.
Sweaters and mittens:
Small dogs, short-haired dogs, and basically any dog that wasn’t born in a thick, full fur coat, needs a coat or at least a sweater for winter walks, and foot protection also helps keep them warm and dry. Don’t put a wet or damp coat on your pup; it’s counter-productive. If you don’t have access to a clothes dryer to give wet gear a quick, warm tumble, consider buying a few different coats and sweaters so that there is always a dry one on hand.
Know their cold tolerance:
There are many factors which contribute to a pet’s cold tolerance level – the thickness of their coat, their body fat stores, their level of activity, their age and health. Pets with arthritis are especially sensitive to cold, as it can affect their joints, and older pets aren’t always as nimble on ice and in snow. Short, little dogs get colder faster because their bodies are deeper in the snow. Short-haired pets freeze the fastest and are in need of coats and sweaters before they can brave the frosty outdoors. Pets with certain illnesses experience difficulty regulating their body temperature and need to be watched closely when outside. Long-haired, thick-coated dogs love the extreme cold, but unless your pet is a husky or a polar bear, there is also a limit to what they can comfortably take. Research and consult your vet!
A dog’s feet can be easy to overlook because they appear to be so resilient but they are actually quite susceptible to injury and damage. It is best to check your pup’s paws frequently for signs of cracks and bleeding. Street salt is harsh on the delicate paw pads too, so booties are recommended if you live in towns and cities that use it as a de-icer.
Wipe down and rinse:
In addition to the sometimes treacherous weather conditions we are exposed to, wintertime is a time of toxic de-icing chemicals: during walks, your dog’s feet, legs and belly may pick up antifreeze and other things that should never come in contact with skin and fur. When you get back inside, quick rinses and wipe-downs of your Pongo’s feet and undercarriage can help to reduce the risk of him being poisoned after accidentally licking it off himself, or letting it seep into his skin.
Stay warm, indoors:
Sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, just staying inside and waiting out winter by the roaring fire isn’t an option for everyone. Cats and dogs should generally be kept inside during cold weather, and no pet, no matter how furry, should be left outside for long periods of time, because even those pets are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia.
Many families like to take the dog along for the car ride to the grocery store etc., but in the winter when cars cool down to fridge-like temperatures so quickly, it’s best to just leave them at home where they will be safe and warm. If you tend to take the dog along just so that they won’t tear up the house in your absence, consider crating them.
Read the signs:
A whining, shivering, slowed-down, weak-seeming pet could be showing signs of hypothermia or frostbite, and you should take them back inside as quickly as possible. These things aren’t always immediately apparent, so you should always err on the side of caution and bring them in when they seem to be slowing down or looking anxious. One tell-tale sign that it’s just too cold for them is if they start picking up their feet awkwardly when they are walking – it means the ground is freezing their paws. Get inside and warm up!
Safety-proof your home:
Do you use space heaters that can be easily knocked over by rambunctious kids and pets? Are your carbon monoxide detectors up to par? Do you have any cold drafts that could use sealing? How’s the furnace working? If you give your home a safety once-over early, you could avoid emergencies and costly set-backs later. Also, it’s a good idea to prepare a disaster kit in case of power outages and blizzards, and consider your pets’ needs with it. Have enough extra food, and store some extra jugs of water.
Bang on the hood:
I just realized the naughty way that phrase could be taken but hey, maybe it’ll help people to remember this important tip! Outdoor and feral cats like to cozy up under car hoods when it’s cold out, so check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn to give these kitties a chance to scram before you turn the ignition.
Stay away from ponds and lakes:
Sure, there is nothing more beautiful or idyllic than a wintry water-side setting, but ice is a huge danger for everyone. Ice formation is a tricky thing – it could be frozen solid in one spot, and two feet away be thin as a cracker. You should never wander out onto ice, especially with your pet, who may be bolder than you and end up falling through in a deep spot, putting you both at risk.