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Tips for a Humane Winter

With the passing of the winter solstice earlier this week, we finally greet the beginning of winter. For many parts of the United States, and the globe, this means potentially colder weather, winter storms and dangerous conditions.

During the cold months of this season, it’s especially important to keep your pets’ safety in mind. It’s a common misconception that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur. Like people, however, animals are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. And just like it affects us, exposure to winter’s dry, cold air and chilly rain, sleet and snow can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin for animals too. Additionally, many pets become lost in the winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find his/her way back home.

To help you prioritize your pets’ safety, we provide some simple tips to ensure a humane winter.

Prepare for Cold Weather

  • Plan ahead and pay attention to cold-weather warnings.
  • Keep your pet preparedness kit well-stocked and ready — in a winter storm, you may not be able to leave your home for several days.
  • Leave your pets’ coats a little longer in the winter to provide as much warmth as possible. That summer “short cut” from your groomer should be avoided during cold weather. If you have short-haired breeds, consider getting them a coat or sweater that covers them from neck to tail and around the abdomen

Winter Pet Care

  • When you bathe your dogs in cold weather, make sure they are completely dry before taking them outside for a romp or walk.
  • When walking your dogs during bad weather, keep them on a leash. It’s easier for a dog to become lost in winter storm conditions and more dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season. (And don’t forget to microchip and put current ID tags on your dogs and cats!)
  • Leash your pets if you have frozen ponds, lakes or rivers nearby, as loose pets can break through ice and quickly succumb to hypothermia before trained ice-rescue personnel can arrive. Never try an ice rescue of a pet yourself – leave that to trained professionals.
  • When you are working on housebreaking your new puppy, remember that puppies are more susceptible to cold than are adult dogs. In cold conditions or bad weather, you may need to opt for paper training your new pet rather than taking the pup outside.
  • Keep your pets inside, both during the day and night. Just because they have fur doesn’t mean they can withstand cold temperatures.
  • If dogs must be left outside for any period of time, they should have a draft-free shelter large enough to stand and turn around in, yet small enough to retain body heat. Use a layer of straw or other bedding material to help insulate them against the cold. Make sure the entrance to the shelter faces away from the direction of incoming wind and snow.
  • Keep your cats indoors. Cats can freeze in cold weather without shelter. Sometimes cats left outdoors in cold weather seek shelter and heat under the hoods of automobiles and are injured or killed when the ignition is turned on. Banging loudly on the hood of your car a few times before starting the engine will help avoid a tragic situation. (This is true for wild animals in cold weather as well.)

Precautions for Outdoor Pets

  • Remember that staying warm requires extra calories. Outdoor animals typically need more calories in the winter, so feed them accordingly when the temperature drops. Talk to your veterinarian for advice on proper diet.
  • Watch your pet’s outside fresh-water bowl. If it is not heated, you may need to refresh it more often as it could freeze in cold weather.
  • Salt and de-icers: Many pets like to go outside to romp and stomp in the snow, but people use powerful salt and chemicals on their sidewalks to combat ice buildup. Thoroughly clean your pets’ paws, legs and abdomen after they have been outside, to prevent ingestion of toxic substances and to prevent their pads from becoming dry and irritated. Signs of toxic ingestion include excessive drooling, vomiting and depression.
  • Ice and snow: When you let your pets in from a walk or a romp outside, make sure to wipe their paws and undersides — get those ice balls off as soon as possible, as they can cause frostbite. After being outside, check your pets’ paws, ears and tail for frostbite. Frostbitten skin usually appears pale or gray and can be treated by wrapping the area in a dry towel to gradually warm the area. Check with your veterinarian if you suspect frostbite.
  • Use nontoxic antifreeze. Antifreeze is great-tasting to pets, but even a very small amount ingested can be deadly. Look for “safe” nontoxic antifreeze, consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol, and make sure all spills are cleaned up immediately and thoroughly. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pets have ingested any antifreeze!

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