WINTER SAFETY AND PREPAREDNESS
By Ally Hirschlag
January 20, 2021
(Getty Images/Mathias Ahrens)
Dogs and, yes, even cats, can have a blast in the winter, exploring and frolicking in freshly fallen snow. But dogs (well, most dogs anyway) particularly love a snowy terrain. They like to bound and dig in their giant, new, snowy playground and never seem to want to go inside no matter how ready their humans are to leave the cold and wet outdoors behind.
However, frozen precipitation and colder temperatures can also be dangerous for dogs if their owners don't take proper precautions. If you're a new pet parent, or simply unsure of the best way to care for your pet during the winter months, it's important to get acquainted with the do's and don'ts of keeping your pet safe and healthy out there.
Keep them bundled up
Even if the temperature is above freezing, pets' extremities, just like our own, are extremely susceptible to wind chill. They can get hypothermia and frostbite on their exposed paws, noses and ears. While dogs and cats don't typically wear hats for long, you can help protect them from the cold by putting them in insulated sweaters and jackets, and covering their feet with waterproof paw booties. Those booties will also help keep their paw pads from cracking from the de-icing salt on roads and walkways.
Wipe them down as soon as they come inside
As a form of precipitation, snow can leave pets cold and very wet at the end of a snowy play session, and if they remain like that for a while, they could get a cold or hypothermia (your furniture will also take a beating). In order to avoid all that, make sure to towel them off as soon as they come inside. You can keep a designated pet towel by the door so you never forget this important step.
NEVER leave pets outside overnight or for an extended period of time
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According to the Humane Society, you should never leave pets outside for long periods of time when it gets cold. In fact, leaving a pet outside alone in temperatures below freezing for more than 30 minutes is considered neglect, which is a punishable crime. Even if you have a typically outdoor cat, they should be able to get inside somewhere warm whenever they need to.
If your pet has to spend a significant amount time outdoors, they should have access to a dry, insulated shelter that's large enough for them to move around in and maintains their body heat.
Eating and drinking guidelines
Dogs especially expend more energy when they're running outside in the cold. You can help them make up for that by feeding them a bit more food so they can replace the energy/calories they lost playing. You may also want to consider exchanging your metal food and water bowls for plastic ones if you keep them outside as a warm dog tongue could easily get stuck to them.
Keep pets from eating rock salt
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Pets suffering from salt poisoning, unfortunately, becomes much more common in the winter months, because rock salt is regularly used to de-ice the roadways and walkways they walk on. If they ingest it, either while on a walk or by licking it off their paws, it can be fatal. The best way to prevent salt poisoning is to keep an eye on your pet and if you notice they've eaten salt, wash their mouth out and call the pet poison hotline. If you're not sure whether or not your pet has ingested salt, here are some warning signs of salt poisoning to watch out for: vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, not eating, excessive thirst and/or urination, incoordination, tremors and seizures.
Take them for their annual vet visit
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Right before winter hits is the perfect time to take your pets in to see the vet, because you'll learn if they have any new conditions that might make winter a bit tougher on them. For example, chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease can lower a pet's cold-temperature tolerance. And, of course, new or worsening arthritis can make for stiffer joints during cold snaps.
Shorten walking times
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It may be tempting to let your pet play in the snow for hours on end, but like us, they have cold weather limits, they just aren't as aware of them. So if it's below freezing, you should limit playtime to under 30 minutes, especially if you have an older pet or one that's compromised in any way.
Don't leave your pet in a cold car
(Getty Images/Julia Christe)
Just like how a car left in the hot sun can heat up fast and basically become an oven for any living thing inside it, cars left out in the winter become like refrigerators. So the general rule of thumb is don't take your pets on errands if you know you're going to be leaving them in a car for longer than five minutes, especially if it's balmy or freezing outside.
Pet-proof the inside of your house
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Since your pets should be spending more time indoors in the winter, it's a good idea to secure all of your heating devices that could be susceptible to a bounding and/or large creature. For example, if you've set up a portable heater in your living room, make sure you have a barrier around it so that your pet doesn't knock into it or knock it over and potentially start a fire. And if you have radiators that can get hot, you might want to put a barrier around them as well so that pets don't burn themselves.