By Dr. Mandie Wehr
Director of Shelter Operations

As temperatures outside begin to plummet and the snow falls, it’s important to think about how to keep our pets happy and healthy throughout the winter season.

During wintertime, it’s helpful to think about your pets’ comfort the way you think about your own—there are many similar precautions and considerations to keep in mind.

Just like people, the cold weather can make some medical conditions worse for our pets! This could include arthritis and dry or itchy skin. Older pets may find it difficult to get around through the snow or navigate icy surfaces. Pets managing life with certain diseases (like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and other endocrine disorders) can have more difficulty regulating their body temperatures in the winter and may seek out warm spots to rest. Remember to keep pets well-hydrated, with constant access to fresh (non-frozen) water. They may need a little increase in their food, too, as they burn more energy trying to stay warm.

Discuss your pets’ health with your veterinarian, especially if there are any previously identified medical conditions that can make winter harder for them. Check in with your veterinarian if you notice them having difficulty getting around in the snow and ice, if they have itchy/dry skin, or if they are losing weight.

Walking Your Dog

When it’s really cold out, keep your daily walks with your pets short, and only take them outside long enough to go to the bathroom. A jacket or sweater is ideal for pets with short coats as well as those whose tummies are close to the ground. Keep multiple coats so you can be sure the coat is dry when you put it on. While out on walks, keep pets away from frozen ponds, lakes and other bodies of water to avoid the danger of them breaking through the ice. After your walk outside, wipe down or wash your pets legs and paws to remove all the deicer products or other possible contaminants your pet may have picked up. Check their pads for bleeding or cracks and look between their toes. If your pet seems suddenly lame on or after a walk, check for ice and snow accumulation between their toes or pads. It can be helpful to keep the hair on their paws trimmed during the winter months. Applying straw to a dedicated space in your yard for a pet to use to eliminate can help protect their feet in the snow and ice.

Antifreeze & Vehicles

Many of us add antifreeze to our vehicles in the winter. Antifreeze is known to have a sweet taste that our pets unfortunately enjoy, and ingestion is most often fatal. Make sure to clean up if you spill antifreeze, and look for brands that are pet safe. In winter months, our vehicles can also act as a refrigerator making the temperature inside even colder than it is outside – pets should never be left in cars unattended as the temperatures drop.

Outside cats often seek warmth in the winter and your warm car engine makes a very comfortable place for them to rest – remember to check under your car and bang loudly on the hood before starting it to give them a chance to get away before the engine starts up again.

Limiting Their Time Outdoors

Remember, if you’re cold, they’re cold – bring your pets inside. When the temperature drops below freezing (30 F) do not leave pets outside as they can develop frostbite or hypothermia (when their body temperature drops to a life-threatening level). When pets are left outside in the winter during temperatures above freezing, make sure they have access to an insulated enclosure that is off the ground, and regularly change out bedding to ensure it is dry and able to provide warmth. Even if you’re using hay or straw to insulate an enclosure, it should be changed out regularly.

Have more questions about keeping your pet safe this winter? Call us at (207) 725-5051. 

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