While it can be exciting to see wintry weather and let your pet go out and have fun in the snow, it can also be dangerous to their health. One key thing to remember is if it feels too cold to you, then it’s probably too cold for your pet. While cats and dogs have natural fur coats designed to protect them, their fur alone isn’t sufficient enough, especially during extreme periods of cold weather.
We take a look at 8 winter pet safety tips to help you prepare for the cold weather ahead as well as protect your furry friend.
8 Pet Safety Tips for the Winter
1. If possible, keep your pet indoors during the colder weather.
During the colder months, it’s better to keep your pet indoors to protect him or her from the elements. Like humans, pets are also susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reported 37 cold weather-related companion animal deaths in 2019.
If your pet gets wet from the rain, ice, or snow and remains outdoors, they could potentially freeze to death. For outdoor pets that aren’t used to the indoors, you could try training them ahead of time so they’ll get accustomed to using the bathroom indoors or going outdoors briefly for bathroom breaks. If you can’t bring them inside, make sure they have a warm place to stay outdoors.
2. Periodically wash and dry your pet to remove any chemicals from their paws and fur.
While you don’t want to wash your pet too often during the winter, you should periodically wash and dry them, especially after walks or spending time outdoors to remove any potential chemicals from their fur and paws. Don’t be afraid to brush their fur either! If your pet has longer and thicker hair, you’ll want to make sure that it doesn’t get matted, as you’ll end up having to trim more hair than normal, reducing their coat.
De-icers, sand, and salt can irritate their skin, and antifreeze is poisonous to pets. If you end up having to add antifreeze to your vehicle, be sure to clean up any spills to prevent your pet from consuming any of the liquid. In between washes, if your pet is damp, take a towel and keep them dry.
3. Consider using petroleum jelly or booties to protect their paws.
Another way to help protect their paws is by adding some petroleum jelly to their paw pads before going outdoors. Salt can irritate and even burn your pet’s paws, so adding some petroleum jelly or a protective balm will put a barrier between their paws and the elements.
You can also try pet booties for more protection. You may have to get your pet used to walking in booties at first, so be sure to encourage them even though they may look a little funny at first. You can give them treats to help nudge them along, but continued wear will help acclimate them to the boots.
4. You may need to feed your pet a little more during the colder months.
Depending on your pet, breed, and health, you may need to feed him or her a little more during the winter months. Some dogs, for instance, may need additional calories in the winter, depending on their metabolism. One way to better understand your pet’s health and needs is to visit with your veterinarian who can identify a Body Condition Score (BCS). This score is similar to our Body Mass Index (BMI) score in evaluating weight.
Another thing to consider is how active or sedentary your pet is while also watching their weight. If your pet tends to be more active, then you may need to feed him or her more.
5. Use plastic bowls for feeding and providing water to your pet.
For feeding or providing water to your pet, use plastic bowls instead of metal bowls throughout the winter. This is especially important if your pet will eat outdoors as it will prevent their tongues from getting stuck to the bowl and any injuries. Keep an eye on their water bowl if it is outside to avoid freezing and replace it with fresh water. If you don’t already have one, set up a designated place where your pet can eat each day.
6. Make sure they sleep comfortably and warmly.
Create a warm and cozy place for your pet to rest and sleep. If he or she will be indoors, consider purchasing a pet bed and blanket. For an outdoor pet, make sure they have an outdoor house or shelter where they can be safe from the elements. For dog houses, add some hay or straw that they can bury into. A thick sheet of plastic can also be draped over the doorway to block out the cool air.
7. Make sure your pet has a collar and your contact information.
For pets allowed to roam outside, always check to make sure they’re wearing their collar with your contact information. PetFinder shares that most dogs go missing during the winter than other seasons of the year. One reason your pet could get lost and have a difficult time returning home is due to any snow or ice on the ground, which could mask common smells that they’ve used to identify areas, including home.
You can also keep tabs on your pet’s using a pet tracking device and apps that would allow you to see their location. Before you let them out for some exercise, be sure their collar is on snugly so that someone can help you locate your pet if he or she gets lost.
8. Watch out for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite on pets typically occurs on their ears, tails, or other extremities of their bodies. Look out for signs like ice on their bodies, shivering, and discoloration of their skin. You may be able to notice that their skin is red, pale, or discolored.
For hypothermia, you may also notice shivering, lethargy, or dilated pupils. If you suspect your pet has frostbite, gently warm the area that needs attention with a towel or blanket and warm water. If you suspect your pet has gone into hypothermia, you should try to warm up their bodies safely with a blanket or even warm bottles of water. If you suspect severe hypothermia, it is best to take them to the veterinarian.
Photos by MilosStankovic / Cavan Images / GettyImages