It may be an El Nino year, but that doesn’t mean it will be warm in Michigan this winter. Cold weather can pose serious risks to your pet’s health and safety. We offer you a list of practical ways you can keep your pets safe and comfortable all winter long.
Cold Weather Safety Tips
- Stay home – Pets are not much safer in a cold car than they are in a warm one. Hypothermia is deadly and pets are just as susceptible to it as humans.
- Stay in – Dogs and cats should not be outside for prolonged periods in the cold. It’s a myth that animals are more resistant to cold than humans; the reality is that our pets can suffer the harmful effects of cold weather just as easily as we can.
- If you must leave pets outside – Provide a warm, dry shelter with plenty of cozy bedding. Puppies and older dogs are more sensitive to the cold so it would be better to take them outside only to relieve themselves. Shovel out a spot if there’s deep snow.
- Paw protection – Be aware of your dog’s paw pads while walking as snow and ice can damage the pads or make walking difficult. Clip the fur between toe pads to reduce the amount of snow collecting between the toes. Or spray the pads with cooking spray just before your walk in very cold weather.
Take a moment to wipe your dog’s paws, legs, and underbelly after you arrive home to remove any chemicals that may have accumulated, such as deicers, salt or antifreeze. Place warm water and a dry towel near the door to rinse and dry paws.
- Speaking of protection – Short-haired dogs may benefit from wearing a sweater or dog coat while outside. Make sure to remove your pet’s clothing if it gets wet as that can actually make your dog colder.
- Frostbite – if temperatures fall below zero, even minor exposure can lead to frostbite of sensitive areas such as nose, feet and ears. Frost-bitten skin has a red, gray or whitish appearance. Use a warm, moist towel to help thaw any frostbitten areas and bring your pet to your vet or pet emergency.
- Winter wellness – If your pet has not had his or her wellness exam yet this year, winter is a good time to make an appointment. Cold weather can exacerbate certain conditions, such as arthritis, and your pet may need to be checked out.
A Word About Fences in Winter
“Invisible” or underground electric fencing is growing in popularity as a way to keep dogs and cats in the yard without the cost or unsightliness of a standard fence. Please keep a couple of things in mind during cold winter weather:
- Invisible fences can malfunction and cease working in the cold months, especially when ice and deep snow covers the area where the fence is buried. This may allow your pet to get lost in the cold weather. If you let your pet outside on his or her own, be sure to check that the fence is operational.
- With any type of fenced-in yard, if you allow your dog outside before bed for a potty break, be sure that your pet is warmly tucked inside before you go to bed (or fall asleep on the sofa).
Staying Active Inside or Out
Keeping pets active during the winter months can be a challenge, but both pets and people need exercise everyday!
- Get outside – Yes, it’s cold, yes there’s snow on the ground, but chances are your dog doesn’t mind. So bundle up your pooch and yourself and get moving. Take a walk, have a snowball fight, even throw the Frisbee a few times…who knows, you may even have a little bit of fun yourself!
- Obstacle courses/agility training – Indoor agility courses are a wonderful way for dogs to burn off energy while engaging their natural hunting instincts. You can even set up your own dog-friendly obstacle course in the basement or garage.
- Back to school – Winter is a great time to sign up your dog for training or obedience classes. Classes such as these allow your dog to socialize and expend excess energy while fine-tuning his or her behavior and skills.
- Feed the brain – Keeping our pet’s brains active is important during the long winter months. Food puzzles, slow feeders, cat trees, and indoor games can provide pets with much needed mental stimulation.
Oakland Veterinary Referral Services hopes that you, your family and your pets stay warm and safe this winter.