By Kim Gilliam
With an unseasonably warm November, we haven’t had to think too much about cold weather yet. But winter is coming, and it’s best to prepare now to ensure your pet’s safety and wellbeing.
Just as warm weather poses health risks for your pets, so does cold, wet weather. If it’s too chilly for you to be outside, then it’s probably the same for them. Think about the following:
Do a wellness check.
The cold can make some medical conditions like arthritis flare up, and pets with diabetes, hormonal imbalances or heart and kidney disease have a harder time regulating their body temperatures. Take this chance to schedule an annual exam with your vet so that you know how best to keep your pet healthy this winter.
Pets’ tolerances will vary. Each animal’s tolerance for winter weather differs depending on their coat, body fat stores, activity level and health, so it’s important to be in tune with them. You likely will need to shorten long walks, be careful with dogs that are short-legged and will become cold faster over snow-covered ground, and take it easy with elderly or arthritic dogs over the more challenging terrain.
Dogs with shorter coats or that are bothered by the cold can wear a water-resistant sweater or coat with a high collar, covering them from the base of the tail to the belly to stay warm, and booties to protect their feet.
Have these fitted properly so that they are not hazardous. Boots should fit snugly but not so tight that they cut off circulation and invite frostbite. Have multiple sets if possible to ensure dryness, as wet clothes can make your pup colder
Wipe your pets down.
Each time you come in from a walk, wipe down or wash and dry your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove de-icers, antifreeze or other toxic chemicals that they may have picked up so they don’t lick these off their fur and get sick. Also use pet-friendly de-icers on your property to help protect neighborhood pets.
Monitor skin and paws. Repeatedly going from the dry heat of your home into the cold and back can cause itchy, flaking skin. Consider using a humidifier and limit how often you bathe your pet to avoid removing essential oils or change to a waterless shampoo.
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 also massage petroleum jelly or other paw protectors 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 are whining, shivering, breathing shallowly or seem anxious or slowed down, these could be signs of discomfort or hypothermia; get them back inside quickly.
Frostbite most commonly occurs on ears, tails, rears or paws. Look for discolored — red, pale or gray — skin, swelling or blisters that may be hidden beneath fur.
Don’t be surprised if your pet changes their sleeping location in order to stay warm, preferably a location off of the floor and away from drafts. They also may burn extra energy in the winter, so consider feeding them a little bit more to provide much-needed calories, and make sure they have plenty of water to stay hydrated. Never leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, because they act as refrigerators that hold in the cold.
It doesn’t take much to keep your pet safe when things get frosty. When winter’s chill sends you scurrying indoors, don’t forget the needs of your four-legged pals — it’s a great excuse for extra cuddles.
The writer is the co-owner of Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in the Eisenhower Valley.