We often think of the harmful effects that warmer weather has on our pet’s health, but we shouldn’t overlook the importance of protecting them in the winter months too. The harsh winter temperatures require that special attention be paid to our pet’s health and safety. With some careful planning, you can prevent health issues and avoid winter hazards before they happen.
For stubborn pets that insist on staying outdoors (like cats), provide them with a dry, warm, draft-free shelter they can retreat to if they need a break. Ideally, the floor of the shelter should be elevated off the ground and located in a garage, shed, or other covered spot. The bedding should be dry and changed regularly. Wet bedding can make your pet even colder causing serious and potentially fatal health problems. For extra warmth, use heating products that are designed specifically for animals to prevent burns and electrocution.
If you keep your pet’s food and water bowls outside, check them frequently to make sure the water hasn’t frozen. Ensure your pet has enough food and water since they will use up most of their energy trying to stay warm. If you haven’t already, you may want to invest in a set of plastic bowls. Metal bowls can cause your pet’s tongue to stick to them if the temperature outside is cold enough. Ouch!
When it comes to feeding time, strive to maintain a healthy weight for your pet. Since pets tend to sleep more and exercise less during the winter months, you may want to adjust your furry friend’s food portions to prevent obesity. Gaining more weight won’t help your pet stay warmer, but it can cause more health problems in the future.
The holiday season brings its own challenges when it comes to keeping your pet safe. The common culprits of wintertime food poisonings in pets are chocolate, plants, holly berries and leaves, and tinsel. Seek medical attention immediately if your cat or dog shows any signs of pet poisoning such as sudden convulsing and vomiting.
Most pets can’t resist the sweet scent and taste of antifreeze, but in spite of its appealing taste, antifreeze and many windshield washing fluids contain a highly dangerous and toxic chemical (ethylene glycol) that can kill your cat or dog if ingested. Prevent accidents by cleaning up spills as soon as they happen, keeping your pets out of the garage, and keeping containers out of reach of curious noses and clumsy tails. On walks, lead your pet away from driveways that may have spills. As soon as you return home and before they have a chance to lick them, wipe your pet’s paws to clean away any salt and chemicals. Take your pet to a veterinarian immediately if you suspect that they may have been exposed to antifreeze or if they show any abnormal behaviour.
Prolonged exposure to extreme cold can cause your pet to develop hypothermia. Symptoms include: shivering, loss of energy, breathing problems, and more. Your pet isn’t immune from hypothermia because they are covered in hair. Wet matted hair loses its ability to insulate your pet from the bitter cold temperatures. Imagine how it would feel to walk out into a winter wonderland with wet hair and a wet t-shirt. Brrrr! Now that’s cold! No pet, regardless of the thickness of their coat, should be left outside in the freezing cold for hours. Puppies, kittens, senior pets, and sick animals should be kept indoors in colder weather. For adult pets, limit their outdoor playtime to prevent overexposure and if your pet has a short hair coat, ensure they are wearing an appropriately sized jacket. If your pet starts displaying symptoms of hypothermia wrap them in a warm blanket and call your veterinarian for further advice.
Another common winter health issue is frostbite. Check your pet for patches of skin that appear pale, grey, or blue to start, but turn red and puffy as time passes. If you suspect that Jack Frost has been nipping at your pet’s nose, toes, ears, or tail, apply a warm cloth to the affected areas and call your veterinarian.
When it comes to winter safety, remember the golden rule of winter pet care: If you’re cold, then your pet will be cold too. You know your pet’s limits and cold tolerance better than anyone. Use your best judgement and trust your gut. Your pet will be grateful that you did! Stay warm and have a safe winter season!