It's that time of year--the leaves are almost done falling and some parts of the country are looking forward to ice, snow, and freezing cold temperatures. Now's the time to snuggle up in front of a fireplace with a kitty on your lap or a puppy at your feet. But before you settle down to your long winter's nap, take some time to learn how to keep your pets as warm and comfortable as you are.
Cold weather can be hard on pets. Just like people, your pets are accustomed to the warm shelter of the indoors and may not be able to tolerate much time in the cold. Here are some tips to keep your pets warm and healthy this winter.
- Take your animals for a winter check-up before winter arrives. Your veterinarian can check to make sure they don't have any medical problems that will make them more vulnerable to the cold.
- Keep your pets inside as much as you can when the mercury drops. If you have to take them out, stay outside with them. When you're cold enough to go inside, they probably are too. If you absolutely must leave them outside, make sure they have a warm, solid shelter against the wind, thick bedding, and plenty of non-frozen water.
- Your pet's breed, age, and overall health will all contribute to how much time they can tolerate in the cold. Consult your veterinarian to help you decide how approach your pet's outside time this winter.
- Cats will curl up against almost anything to stay warm--including car engines. Cats caught in moving engine parts can be seriously hurt or killed. Before you turn your engine on, check beneath the car and rap on the hood or honk the horn.
- If you live near a pond or lake, be very cautious about letting your rambunctious dog off the leash. Animals can easily fall through the ice, and it is very difficult for them to escape on their own.
- If you light a fire or plug in a space heater to keep your home toasty warm, keep an eye out to make sure that no tails or paws come in contact with flames, heating coils, or hot surfaces. Pets can either burn themselves or knock a heat source over and put the entire household in danger.
- Pets that go outside can pick up rock salt, ice, and chemical ice melts in their paw pads. To decrease paw irritation, wipe your pet's feet with a washcloth when they come inside. This will also keep them from licking the salt off their feet, which can cause stomach upset.
- It's a good idea to have your furnace checked for carbon monoxide leakage before you turn it on, both for your pets' health and your own. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, but it can cause problems ranging from headaches and fatigue to trouble breathing.
- Keep an eye on your pet's water to make sure it doesn't freeze. Animals that don't have access to clean, unfrozen water are more likely to drink out of puddles or gutters, which can be polluted with oil, antifreeze, household cleaners, and other chemicals.
- Be particularly gentle with elderly and arthritic pets during the winter. The cold can leave their joints extremely stiff and tender, and they may be more unsteady than usual. Stay directly below these pets when they are climbing stairs or jumping onto furniture; consider modifying their environment to make it easier for them to get around. Avoid icy areas on walks to avoid injuries, and make sure they have a thick, soft bed in a warm room for the chilly nights.
When you're outside with your pets during the winter, you can watch them for signs of discomfort with the cold. If they whine, shiver, seem anxious, shift their weight from foot to foot, slow down or stop moving, or start to look for warm places to burrow, they're saying they want to get back someplace warm.
You can also keep an eye out for two serious conditions caused by cold weather. The first and less common of the two is frostbite. Frostbite happens when an animal's (or a person's) body gets cold and pulls all the blood from the extremities to the center of the body to stay warm. The animal's ears, paws, or tail can get cold enough that ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage it. The tricky thing about frostbite is that it's not immediately obvious. The tissue doesn't show signs of the damage to it for several days.
Hypothermia, or a body temperature that is below normal, is a condition that occurs when an animal is not able to keep her body temperature from falling below normal. It happens when animals spend too much time in cold temperatures, or when animals with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold. In mild cases, animals will shiver and show signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As the condition progresses, their heartrate and breathing slows down and they can slip into a coma.
If you have any concern that your pet might have frostbite or hypothermia, call your veterinarian right away to find out how best to keep them warm while you are bringing them to the hospital..
Winter can be a beautiful but sometimes dangerous time of year. If you take some precautions, you and your pet can have a fabulous time taking in the icicles, the snow banks, and the warm, glowing fire at the end of the day.