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Jan 07 2014

Winter Pet Care: Honey, it’s cold outside!


With winter here, many parts of the country will experience weather conditions that are “not fit for man nor beast.” Many pets resist going outdoors into the cold, wet weather, but despite these conditions, our dogs must go outside for two basic reasons:

  1. They need to exercise.
  2. They need to eliminate. 

So how do pet owners deal with these icy conditions? How do we walk our pets when we don’t even want to venture outdoors ourselves? How do we tear ourselves away from warm fires and snuggly blankets to face arctic blasts that greet us when we open the back door?

 Here are some winter pet care tips to help you and your pet weather the winter.

  1. Bring your pet in for a pre-winter exam. Your veterinarian should see your dog twice yearly for well-health check-ups. It’s good time of year to visit your dog’s doctor and make sure he doesn’t have any underlying medical problems that would make him more vulnerable to winter weather. For example, arthritic dogs suffer more in cold weather and can benefit from anti-inflammatory medications. Dogs with pre-existing urinary problems also fare worse in the winter months as the cold weather tends to trigger more bladder infections. Your veterinarian can detect problems like these early on, or prevent them altogether, with an exam and lab work. 
  2. Pay special attention to older pets and those with medical problems. It makes sense that a pet with less body fat cannot endure low temperatures as well as one in good body condition. Since older pets lose muscle mass and body fat (like we do as we age), they cannot tolerate the cold as well as their younger friends. Also, pets with medical problems like diabetes, heart conditions, or thyroid deficiencies have more difficulty regulating their body temperature. Take special care with pets that are at higher risk of temperature induced problems. 
  3. Dress your pet for the weather. Regardless of age or health status, it’s important to dress your pet warmly for winter weather. During dry, cold weather, protect your pet from the elements with warm outerwear such as a sweater. When snow or ice is on the ground, consider putting canine boots on your dog to protect their foot pads from chemicals and salt products used on slippery ice. It can take some time before your dog gets used to wearing winter clothing, so dress your dog in her winter wear before winter actually arrives to get her accustomed to her new duds. 
  4. Umbrellas are great in the winter, too. Keep a large golf umbrella handy to protect you and your dog from winter precipitation – the dryer the walk, the better. 
  5. Increase your pet’s blood circulation. Towel-dry your dog as soon as you get back indoors. Even if his coat isn’t wet, brisk rubbing with the towel increases his circulation and warms him up more quickly. 
  6. Have a designated indoor elimination area. If the weather is simply too bad to get outside, provide puppy pads for emergency use. It’s not healthy for your dog to go too long without urinating or defecating. Holding urine in the bladder for extended periods can lead to urinary tract infections (see tip #1). Delayed bowel movements can result in constipation, or the opposite problem….diarrhea from stress-induced colitis. Regular elimination is key to the comfort and health of your pet. 
  7. Stay with your dog when he is outside. Staying with your dog while they’re outside can help you determine when enough is enough. If you get too cold to stay outdoors, you know it’s time to bring your dog inside. If you absolutely must leave your dog outside, make sure he has shelter against the wind and rain. Keep them warm with thick bedding inside their shelter with hot water bottles wrapped in a towel to avoid skin burns, and/or place an electric heat lamp near the shelter. Avoid electric heating pads that can cause skin burns, and check the water bowl frequently to make sure the water is not frozen. 
  8. Don’t make false assumptions. Many people think that a dog with a long coat is adequately protected from cold weather. While it makes sense that a Huskie is better equipped than a Labrador for winter temperatures, even dogs with thicker coats are at risk. Keep all pets warm, even those with good winter hair coats. 

With a little common sense you and your pet will withstand the frosty winter months safely. And you may enjoy a little extra time with your pet as you snuggle inside where it’s warm and inviting.