By Amy Marder, VMD and Kathleen Doheny
Winter poses unique dangers to pets. So keep an eye out for hidden perils--road salt that can sicken dogs, antifreeze that can kill, frostbite on a pooch's sensitive footpads--to make sure pets enjoys many winters to come.
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Like you, dogs and cats can and should enjoy the outdoors in the winter. For the most part, if you take the same precautions for your pets that you would take for yourself, they'll be fine. To keep them safe and healthy, here are 14 ways to weatherproof your pet.
1. Honk for safety's sake
"When it's cold, cats love to sit under the engine or even under the hood," explains Sheldon Rubin, DVM, a Chicago veterinarian and AVMA spokesperson. Those can be deadly spots when the engine starts. Before turning on your ignition, look under your car, tap on the hood, or honk the horn to roust any sleeping kitties.
2. Put on a sweater
Although dogs and cats are equipped with fur coats, they vary in thickness and ability to keep the animal warm. What's more, at the beginning of cold weather, most coats are just starting to thicken up again from the natural thinning process that takes place each summer. It usually takes a few months after the temperature drops for them to offer real protection. Some animals may never develop an adequate winter coat, though. If your dog or cat starts shivering when he's outside, either bring him in or bundle him up with a sweater. Frost-bite or hypothermia (a potentially deadly condition in which the core body temperature drops dangerously) can develop if unprotected pets are left in the cold too long.
3. Stow the chemicals
Cats and dogs like the sweet taste of antifreeze (ethylene glycol), so clean up spills promptly. "Even a teaspoon is potentially lethal," says R. J. Krapfl, DVM, an Omaha veterinarian and spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Consider switching to less toxic propylene glycol–based brands. If you suspect that your dog or cat has ingested antifreeze, call your veterinarian immediately. To prevent accidental poisoning of animals, use animal-friendly antifreeze that contains propylene glycol. (Pet dangers lurk inside your home, too
4. Watch those tails and ears
Despite their fur, pets can develop frostbite, the tissue damage that occurs with cold exposure. "The skin becomes bright red, then pale, then black, after which it can fall off," says Rubin.
Ears, footpads, and the tip of the tail are especially vulnerable. If you suspect frostbite, dampen a towel with warm (not hot) water, and apply it to the affected areas, he says. Wrap the animal in blankets and take it to a vet, who can assess the extent of the tissue damage and treat it. (Not sure if your pet is sick enough to call the vet?
5. Look for tread wear
Thoroughly wipe your pet's paws and belly with warm water when she comes in, just in case she's picked up road salt, antifreeze, or other chemicals that she might lick off. (Salt can cause gastric distress in animals.) Also look for cuts from encrusted snow or ice, and remove ice balls from between footpads. Avoid using salt-based melting products on your own property; switch to sand, cat litter, or an animal-safe de-icer. Make sure you rinse and dry your dog's feet after every walk. Checking his paws regularly and trimming the hair between his toes (with blunt-ended scissors) will prevent frostbite.
6. Be cautious with senior pets
If your animal is older or has a heart or lung condition or arthritis, you might want to skip the long walks, Rubin says. "Cold air in the lungs can be damaging.
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Dogs with arthritis will be more stiff and sore. And the older the dog or cat, the harder the cold is on him."
7. Give them shelter
If your dog or cat lives outdoors most of the time, he needs a warm, protected shelter he can easily get to. Make sure your dog has a draft-proof doghouse. Keep it elevated a few inches off the ground and filled with nonabsorbent bedding (such as hay). For felines, install a cat door to the basement or barn.
Some dogs can stay outdoors most winter days if they have protection from the elements. "The shelter should be raised off the ground so that air can circulate under and so it doesn't get damp," Rubin says. "The opening needs to be away from the prevailing winds." Be sure your animal has a continuous supply of water, preferably in a heated bowl or bucket (available at pet stores and online). But there's a limit: No animal can withstand really harsh weather, Rubin says. When the temperature drops below 20+F, however, it's best to bring your pets inside.
9. Know your pet's limits
Unless they're acclimated to cold weather, cats should stay inside. But when a dog's gotta go, he's gotta go outside. Dogs with heavy coats can handle cold weather; single-coated dogs like poodles and terriers might need a jacket or sweater just to dash out to take care of business. Either way, your dog will usually tell you when enough is enough, by shivering, tugging you back toward home, or doing what the LeBels's Lab, Hopkins, does: "When he starts doing a little dance, lifting his paws, it's too cold," says Michael.
10. Winterize his diet
Pets that spend a lot of time outdoors in cold weather burn more calories to keep warm. Therefore they need to eat more. (But don’t forget to keep your pet healthy! Pick the Right Diet for Your Pet to avoid overeating.) If you have a pet that enjoys being outside in the winter, make sure you increase the amount you feed him by 25 to 50%.
11. Pet-proof your fireplace
Although fireplaces and portable heaters may feel great to both you and your pet, they can be dangerous. Letting your pet get too close to flames or other heat sources can singe fur or even cause severe burns. To protect your pets, make sure that your fireplace is equipped with a screen and that your portable heaters are in rooms where
your pets can't get to them.
12. Keep him dry
If your pet's coat gets wet, it will make him colder, so keep some old towels on hand, and dry him off frequently.
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If he's already chilled, throw the towels in the dryer, then wrap him in them while they're still warm. Be sure to wrap the towel around his chest and abdomen to keep his vital organs warm.
13. Baby him
Puppies, older pets, and animals with illnesses are much more sensitive to the cold. Make sure that you limit the time they spend outdoors in cold weather. And don't leave these pets in a car in very cold weather for long periods of time either--it doesn't offer as much shelter from the cold as you might think.
Next: Top Holiday Pet Hazards To Avoid
14. Danger! Thin ice
Frozen ponds can be deadly to both strolling dogs and people. Unless a pond is posted as safe, never allow your dog to walk across it.