Winter Pet Safety
When the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to keep all animals indoors except when exercising or relieving themselves. “Outdoor” dogs should have a dry, comfortable, draft-free doghouse large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down, but small enough to hold in his body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. Pet stores carry safe heated floor mats and non-electric warm bedding. The doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.
Pets require more calories in lower temperatures because exercise is more strenuous and higher fuel intake helps your pet to maintain body temperature.
Pets must have fresh water at all times, especially in winter when the dehydration is more common. Check the water bowl regularly to ensure it’s full and unfrozen. Use a tip-proof bowl to keep Fido’s paws from freezing. And never use a metal water bowl— the tongue will stick to wet metal, and injury will result.
Your pet’s skin is dryer in the winter and can result in “doggie dandruff” and even cracking and bleeding. Check with your vet to see if he recommends adding a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to your pet’s food.
Paw pads can become frostbitten after playing outdoors. Use an old towel to wipe off paws when he comes inside.
In really frigid weather, don’t take long walks. The salt and chemicals used to de-ice roads can irritate paws, and when your dog licks his paws later, the chemicals can irritate his digestive tract. If your dog’s paws do come in contact with these substances when out for a walk, rinse the feet off and dry thoroughly once you’re back inside.
Antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid spilled on your driveway smell sweet and taste good to both dogs and cats. As little as a teaspoon of these substances can kill your pet. Call your vet immediately if you suspect antifreeze poisoning—it can kill in as little as four hours.
Cold weather aggravates arthritis. If your pet is having trouble getting up or laying down, climbing the stairs or has started to snap or cry when picked up, call your vet, who can offer several treatments for this condition. Never medicate your dog with human medicine of any kind. One acetaminophen tablet can kill a cat.
If you see an animal left out in the cold, speak to its owner or notify your local police or animal welfare agency. Do not be accusatory or belligerent when talking to neglectful pet owners. They may just not know about the dangers of leaving a pet out in the cold for extended periods of time.
Parked cars are an attractive place for cats (and small wild animals) to warm themselves in frigid temperatures. Be sure to look under your car before starting it—you may even want to bang on the hood to scare any animals away.