By Kim Gilliam
This week’s snowfall reminds us that winter is officially here. While some of us really enjoy this time of year and others see it as a nuisance, it requires pet owners to think about the safety and well being of our furry loved ones in the cold weather. Following are some things to think about.
Outside time: Does your pet typically spend a lot of time outside exploring the backyard or going on walks? Reduce that time drastically during the months with freezing temperatures.
Stay attuned to your pet’s tolerance to the cold, which can differ based on coat, body fat stores, activity level and health. Reduce the length of walks or outside time, being especially careful with dogs that are short-legged or elderly.
Food and drink: It takes more energy for your pet to stay warm and active outside in the winter, so likewise they may eat more.
Indoor animals likely will sleep more to conserve energy, so they may actually need to be fed less so they don’t gain weight. Either way, they should have access to plenty of fresh, running water; they cannot hydrate from a frozen water bowl.
Wellness check: The cold can make some medical conditions like arthritis act up, and pets with diabetes, hormonal imbalances or heart and kidney disease have a harder time regulating their body temperature. Schedule an exam with your vet so that you know how best to keep your pet healthy this winter.
Winter gear: Paws, tips of tails and ears are vulnerable to frostbite, so it is important to protect these and keep your dog warm on walks. Those with shorter coats can wear a water-resistant sweater or a coat with a high collar that covers them from the base of the tail to the belly to stay warm.
Consider putting booties on to protect their feet — just be sure they fit properly and do not cut off circulation. Have multiple sets of clothes if possible to ensure dryness, since wet clothes can make your pup colder.
Wipe downs: Each time you come in from a walk, wipe down or wash and dry your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove deicers, antifreeze or other toxic chemicals that they may have picked up so they don’t lick these off their fur and get sick. Also, be sure to use pet-friendly deicers on your property, available from local pet stores.
Skin and paws: Repeatedly going between the dry heat of your home and the wet cold outside can cause itchy, flaking skin. Consider using an in-home humidifier and limit how often you bathe your pet or use waterless shampoo to avoid removing essential oils.
Check paws frequently to see if they are cracked or irritated. Sudden lameness on a walk may be due to ice accumulation between toes; reduce this risk by clipping the hair between their toes. You can massage petroleum jelly or paw protectants into paw pads before going outside.
The most important thing is to pay attention to your pet in the cold and watch for any changes in behavior. If they show signs of discomfort such as whining, shivering, shallow breathing, or anxiety, get them back inside quickly to warm up. It doesn’t take much to keep your pet safe when things get frosty, plus it’s a great excuse for extra snuggle time!
The writer is the co-owner of Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in the Eisenhower Valley.