By Gina Hardter
Winter is right around the corner, and when you’re considering getting out your warmest coat, don’t forget about your furry friend as temperatures begin to drop.
All animals react differently to the cold. Even dogs considered to be “cold-weather” breeds, such as huskies and St. Bernards, will react differently depending on age, health and background, and your veterinarian can help you understand what is safest for your pet.
If your pet is going to be outside for an extended period of time when temperatures dip below 32° F, it’s crucial to make sure that they have access to a well-insulated structure, such as a dog house or kennel, that is fully enclosed, floored and has a wind-block at the door. The structure should also have warm, dry blankets or other floor covering and a heating element or pad. Animals should also have a heated water bowl so they have access to clean, unfrozen water.
Most pets are going to be most comfortable inside a home on those chilly winter days, but even the most dedicated couch potato should still log some outdoor time for exercise and bathroom breaks. If temperatures fall below freezing, consider shortening your pet’s walk or play time and finding other ways for them to get their exercise inside, including playing fetch with favorite toys, learning a new trick, running up and down stairs or even setting up an indoor obstacle course.
During their time outside, pets may benefit from additional layers covering their feet or bodies. Check with your vet to see what they recommend and, of course, use your own judgment to determine your pet’s comfort with clothing. When your pet comes inside, check for signs of injury, especially to their paws, from snow or ice. You should also wipe off their paw pads to prevent injury from or ingestion of chemical melting agents.
Watch for signs that an animal may be getting too cold, including trembling, sleepiness, slowed breathing and mobility issues. If an animal is experiencing numbness or illness, call a veterinarian right away.
Don’t forget about your neighborhood animals during the next cold spell. Most outdoor cats will have found a safe place to stay warm during the winter, but if you are concerned about a cat in your neighborhood, you could consider putting out a weather-safe container with bedding and a hole for entry. Wild animals may use your vehicle to shield themselves from wind and precipitation, so when you are starting your car, be sure to make plenty of noise, and take a little extra time to give animals a chance to make their exit before you drive away.
Winter can be a fun time for the whole family, so make sure you are keeping your pet’s health in mind so you can all have your best winter yet.
The writer is director of marketing and communications for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.