Updated: Jan 4
Does your dog love cold weather, or would she rather cuddle up on the couch under a cozy blanket to escape the winter chill? Well, today marks the first day of winter, but for the Ohio Valley, it’s been winter-like for the past few weeks, and winter in the valley can be a season of bitter cold and numbing wetness.
If you have a pooch that happily spends most of its time romping in the yard, or a cat that delights to spend the day in a sunny patch on your back deck, winter's arrival may be a rude awakening. As the cold weather approaches, make sure to consider the safety of your favorite four-legged friends.
Here are our top four tips to keep your pets safe in cold weather all winter long.
Remember: Pets Get Cold Too
While some pets, especially certain breeds of dogs, love to frolic in the snow, it’s important to know your pet’s limits. A dog might happily spend all day outdoors on cooler spring or fall days, but they definitely should not spend extended period times outside in the freezing cold. Animals can experience hypothermia and frostbite, just as humans do. And, an increasing number of states are passing laws which make it a crime to leave pets out in the cold, so it’s best to keep your pet indoors during extremely inclement weather when possible.
Additionally, some dogs with thin coats of fur may need to wear a sweater or coat when out for winter walks, as some dogs are more susceptible to the cold than others. Short-coated, thin, elderly, or very young dogs get cold more quickly. Word of advice: if it’s too cold for you to stand outside for any length of time without your coat, it’s probably too cold for your dog too. If you notice your pet whining, shivering or appearing anxious, or she stops playing and seems to be looking for somewhere to get out of the cold, then it’s time to bring her in.
If They Can’t Come Indoors, Give Them Shelter
If you can’t keep your pet indoors most of the time, you should plan to bring them indoors during sub-zero temperatures (whether that means your own home or a warm barn).
For the rest of the winter, provide them with a dry, draft-free pet shelter that is large enough to allow them to sit and lay down comfortably, but small enough to conserve body heat. Ideally, the floor of your pet’s shelter should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with some type of insulation, such as straw. Lastly, ensure that the shelter’s entrance is faced away from the wind and that snow or rain cannot get through the entrance’s barrier.
Remember, pets who spend a lot of time outside need more food to replace energy lost from trying to stay warm, so make sure you supply your pet with plenty of food and water. But be sure to use plastic food and water dishes instead of metal–when the temperature is low enough, your pet’s tongue can become stuck to metal. Also, consider adding a pet proof heating pad placed underneath your pet’s water bowl to prevent freezing water in frigid temperatures.
Provide Proper Paw Care
During winter, your dog’s paws can pick up all kinds of toxic chemicals–salt, antifreeze, de-icers, and the like. It’s important to clean your dog’s paws when you return from the great outdoors. These chemicals can not only damage your pet’s paw pads, but if they lick certain chemicals it could make them terribly ill.
When wiping off your dog’s paws, remember to check for signs of injury, such as cracked or bleeding paws. Just as we tend to develop foot cracks in winter, dogs can also suffer from cracked pads. If your dog shows signs of discomfort when walking outside on frozen or salted surfaces, consider using dog booties to protect her paws. If your pooch won’t wear boots, consider purchasing a paw protector balm.
If you know of a pet that is left in the cold for long periods of time, politely speak up.
After all, animals can’t speak for themselves, and sometimes we’re the only voice that can advocate for neglected animals. Indeed, some people genuinely don’t know the risk that cold weather poses to their pets or livestock and will be quick to correct any problems you address. That’s why we believe animal welfare education is so important to the community and the animals within our community. At BCARL, we recognize that most people are genuinely caring and compassionate people that simply need educated on best animal welfare practices.
If someone you raise these concerns with responds poorly or continues to neglect their animals, follow our steps on reporting abuse and neglect.
At the end of the day, we should feel assured that it doesn't take much to keep our pets safe when the weather gets frosty. Just like us, our furry friends need shelter, warmth, food, and care. With a little education, we can ensure that our feline and canine friends are well taken care of during the winter months. So remember, when winter's chill sends you scurrying indoors, don't forget your four-footed pals this season.