Tips to Help Pets Cope With Winter Chill

 Bitter cold is a danger for everyone in the family, including the furry members.

A Kansas State University veterinarian says now is the time to bring some pets inside.

“It is time to consider bringing your cat or dog inside for warmth,” said Susan Nelson, clinical professor at the Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “Pets that are very young or old, and those not acclimated to the colder weather, should be brought in during the colder temperatures.”

Nelson advises dogs with heavy coats could get too warm in the house, so keeping them in a slightly cooler room or the garage can prevent them from getting too uncomfortable. Short trips inside the house before a long period of cold can give pets a chance to become accustomed to indoor temperatures.

If your pet gets nervous or panics while inside, Nelson said a carrier or crate may help to ease the transition. Speak to your veterinarian about calming medication if the pet’s anxiety is severe.

Ensure pets have easy access to food and water bowls and that they know where the bowls are located. If your pet is not housebroken, Nelson recommends keeping them on floors that are easily cleaned.

Homes do have their own environmental threats to pets that are different from those found outdoors.

Indoor plants, such as lilies, dieffenbachia and philodendron, can be toxic to pets,” Nelson said. “Before bringing pets inside, take an inventory of what plants you have and find out if they are poisonous, then move them to an inaccessible place.”

Nelson listed some additional common items found in the home that can also be harmful to our furry friends:

  • Chocolate.
  • Raisins.
  • Onions.
  • Electrical cords.
  • Candles.
  • Potpourri.

With proper care and preparation, pets can be comfortable outside during cold weather, Nelson said.

“Outdoor shelters should not be too big in order to prevent loss of heat to dead space,” Nelson said. “The door should face the south or west to reduce wind gusts. Use clean straw or hay for bedding, as blankets tend to get trampled easily and lose their insulating effect. If your pet will allow it, hanging a blanket over the door or using a pet flap will keep the wind out.”

According to Nelson, cats also benefit from a cozy box in a sheltered area. Straw or hay bedding also works well for them.

“Outside water bowls should be checked at least twice a day for ice, and more often during particularly frigid weather like we will experience this week, to prevent dehydration,” Nelson said. “A heated water bowl is a better option.”

Nelson advises that some outside-dwelling pets may need an increase in food during cold weather to help pets maintain body heat.

The age of the pet can make it more susceptible to cold weather. Young and senior pets are more prone to hypothermia, so they should be kept in a warm environment.

“Pets with osteoarthritis should be treated with extra care,” Nelson added. “Keep them indoors in a warm and well-cushioned area. You can speak with your veterinarian about pain medication options and therapeutic diets that can help ease the pain of arthritic joints.”

Nelson’s additional winter weather safety tips for pets include:

  • If you have a short-haired dog, sweaters are a good idea. Sweaters made out of cotton, fleece or natural fibers are preferred. Make sure the sweater fits well, does not catch the dog’s feet and cannot be easily pulled off. Avoid sweaters with decorations that could be torn off and ingested.
  • Outdoor cats will seek warmth, including near or on a car engine. Honk the horn on your vehicle or bang on the hood before starting the engine in order to scare off any cats that may be warming themselves.
  • Rinse off your pet’s feet if they have been walking on treated surfaces, and do not let them lick it off. It is best to avoid treated walkways, but if your pet must frequently walk on these surfaces, consider having them wear booties to protect their feet. The booties can also help protect their feet from painful ice balls that can form on the bottom of the paws.
  • Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Immediately and thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol, which is more pet friendly — but still not entirely harmless.
  • Frostbite can affect the ears, feet and noses of pets just as it does in people. To avoid frostbite, do not let your pet out in the extreme cold for a long period of time. Chances are that if you get too cold to be outside, it’s probably too cold for your pet as well.

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Photo by Mia Anderson