Last weekend we had the first snow of the season in northern New York. It did not last more than 24 hours, but it was a reminder that winter and cold weather are on the way, and we need to think about cold-weather precautions for our pets. Here are some safety tips:
Know your pet’s limits: Pets, like people, vary in their ability to tolerate the cold based on breed, age, activity level and health. Dense-coated breeds such as Huskies, Malamutes and Chows have better cold tolerance than do short or long haired breeds. Short leg breeds may become chilled faster since part of their underside may contact the snow. Young and old pets can have less body fat to protect them from heat loss. Pets with heart disease, kidney disease and hormonal imbalances such as diabetes and Cushing's disease may be more susceptible to weather extremes.
Stay indoors: During cold weather we all tend to stay inside more and so should your pet. Keep walks shorter. The colder it gets, the shorter the time you and your pet should spend outdoors. Frostbite, hypothermia and frozen, cracked pads can also occur in pets.
Wipeout: Don't let your pets off of their leash during the winter months unless they are in an enclosed yard. Snowy and icy surfaces can be slippery and active or older dogs may fall and injure themselves. Dogs off their leash may get into the road or slide off a snow bank at a time when drivers are less able to stop quickly. Dogs and cats that panic and run away can lose their own scent easier in snow and ice and may not be able to find their way home. In fact, more dogs are lost in the winter than any other season. Make sure your pet always has a collar with proper identification and a microchip.
"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.": Winter is hard on the skin. Cold air is harsh and drying to the skin. When the heat is on, the indoor air is also dry. Use a humidifier to help keep your pet’s skin from becoming dry and flaky. Using a good hair and coat supplement with vitamins and fatty acids on their food may help the skin build a better protective barrier. When your pet comes in from the outdoors, wipe them off with a towel especially on the belly, feet and legs. Check the footpads for cracks and cuts. Road salt and de-icing chemicals can be hard on a pet’s feet. If you use a de-icing agent on the stairs or the driveway, choose one that is “pet friendly.”
All dressed up: Have a sweater or jacket for your pet. It should cover the neck and all the way down to the base of the tail, and the abdomen. It will not only protect your pet from the cold, but it will also protect your pet’s skin from the harsh, drying winter weather.
Foot care: For extended periods outdoors or if you are walking your dog on the road, use booties to help protect his pads from cuts, cracks and road salt. For dogs who will not wear booties, apply petroleum jelly or other paw protectants before going out.
Long hair is groovy: During the winter months ask your groomer to give your dog a longer clip to help protect them from the cold. Cold, dry air can cause static in your pet’s hair, so you may have to brush him more frequently to prevent matting. Brushing will also distribute the skins natural oils to help protect it from the cold weather.
Grunge is in: Consider bathing your pet less frequently to prevent stripping away its natural oils. When you do bathe them, use a moisturizing shampoo and a conditioning rinse.
“Cats in the hood”: During the winter months, sometimes cats and wild animals crawl in and sleep on the car motor because it is warm. When you start the motor, they can become injured or killed by the fan or the fan belt. To prevent this, bang on the hood of your car and wait a few seconds before starting the engine.
Anti-freeze poisoning: Anti-freeze can be deadly to your pet. It has a sweet taste which can attract them to drink it. Always handle it with care and clean up any spills immediately. Consider using an anti-freeze made of propylene glycol because it is less toxic to pets and wildlife than traditional anti-freeze made from ethylene glycol.
Remember cold weather safety is about planning ahead and using common sense. If it is too cold for you to be out for any length of time, it is too cold for your pet!