Keeping Pets Safe In the Winter
February 3, 2011

I grew up with furry little dogs who loved snow. Ko-Ko, my beloved Lhasa Apso, and Pretty, an adorable shih tzu mix, donned their fashionable fuzzy sweaters from November through April. They would jump through mounds of the white stuff and roll around making doggie snow angels until I had to physically herd the two stubborn snow-lovers indoors—no small feat. But neither of my American Staffordshire Terrier mixes have enjoyed snow or the cold weather. It is easy to understand why with one look at Comet’s luxurious yet short coat; she’s simply not built for harsh New England conditions. And with a winter like we’re experiencing now, it is vital to keep the needs of our pets in mind at all times.

Cold weather can be deadly for our pets. The smartest thing to do is to keep cats and dogs indoors when the weather is bitterly cold or stormy. In bad weather, animals can lose scent trails and familiar visual signs, and getting home can be difficult or impossible. If your pet must go outside, make sure they are leashed or fenced in and are wearing a collar and ID tag. Also, make sure you keep an eye on them at all times from a door or window. Keep in mind that allowing them to roam at any time is dangerous, especially when visibility is low, as each passing car puts your pets’ lives in jeopardy. 
Dressing pets up for winter weather is not uncommon. If you pet isn’t a cold weather breed with a thick fur coat, he might need the help of a warm coat or sweater. Make sure you get a good-fitting piece that is washable and will keep your dog or cat warm and dry. And please remember to take the sweater off of your pet when inside so that he doesn’t accidentally get caught on something in your house, like a chair or computer cable. If your pet gets in trouble when you are not in sight or at home, he can get stuck, panic, and even choke.  Keep a towel by the door so that when your pet comes in, you can remove a sweater if he’s wearing one and wipe his coat, legs, and feet dry.

Let’s talk paws for a moment—they can get into trouble out there in the winter months. Snow and ice stuck on and between the pads of their paws can cause pain and lameness problems for your pets. Make sure you try to remove all snow and ice when your pet comes inside. Try to keep them away from salt and ice melting products, as they can be toxic, and wash their paws thoroughly if they encounter these hazards. Consider booties for your pet if they have difficulty walking in the snow or ice.

Cars pose additional dangers to our pets in winter. To keep warm, some cats will seek out the heat of a car engine or wheel well. It is very important to bang on the hood of a car before leaving home. If there are any cats inside, this will warm them to leave before the engine starts up. Additionally, anti-freeze, windshield washer fluid, and other car fluids can be very toxic to pets. Keep containers of these products sealed and tucked away from pets. And speaking of cars, don’t leave your pets inside of a parked car. The temperature will plummet and they can quickly freeze to death.
When the weather isn’t quite so harsh, take your pet outside for fresh air and exercise, but do so in moderation. Short and sweet is best in cold weather! It is important to keep a safe warm place for your pet to relax at home. See that your pet’s bed is away from drafty windows or doors and that it is kept dry from ice and snow that might be carried indoors. As always, make sure a fresh supply of water is available and that your pet has access to good, nutritious food. Your pet counts on you to keep him safe all year long!