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Winter Pet Care

A dog in the winter snowWhen winter chills strike we can put on a sweater, crank up the heating, or put another log on the fire. Your pets grow a winter coat but it is not always enough. There are things you can do to make your pets healthier, safer, and more comfortable through the winter months.

Heating pet houses

If your pets have no heated shelter, keep an eye on the temperature. As a rule of thumb you should consider getting your pet indoors at 15° F. Remember the wind chill, which can drop the temperature much more than what the thermometer is showing; your pet may also get frostbite if it's outside too long. Consider a heated pet house because the older your pet gets, or if it is sick, or if it is pregnant, a heated pet house is a boon to your pet's health and comfort. However, it is no use heating a pet house if that heat is going to dissipate to the outside. Make sure that your pet house is elevated off the ground (placing the house on a pallet can achieve this) and that its floor, walls, and roof are insulated; consider moving your pet house into a garage or outbuilding if your winters are severe. There are many products you can choose from to suit your budget such as:

  • A heated pad (some can also be hung on a wall)
  • A heated bed
  • A wall mounted heater box (basically a heater lamp in a metal box)
  • Electric radiant floor heating
  • Combination heaters and air conditioning units for pets
  • Microwavable pet bed warmer

Dog coats and sweaters

There is some debate over whether it is necessary for a dog to wear a coat or a sweater. However, particularly for smaller dogs, and for dogs that do not go outside for prolonged periods in winter, if your pet is happy to wear one then, why not?

Water

If your pets spend any time outside during winter then they will need access to unfrozen water. Again, there are many products that you can consider:

  • Heated bowls
  • Heated bowls with automated filling
  • Hose heaters
  • Heated water bottles for small animals
  • Bird bath heaters for welcome winter visitors

Health & winter dangers

Feet

You will be walking your dog and unless you fit it with shoes or boots, which is fine, if your dog is happy with them, your dog will picking up rock salt on its footpads. Left alone, rock salt will irritate your dog’s footpads and they may become sore. Do not allow your dog to lick its feet, which could cause diarrhea and vomiting, and make sure that you wash and dry your dog’s feet when you return from your walk. Trim the hairs between your pet's toes to minimize the amount of ice and snow it collects. You could also rub petroleum jelly on your pet's foot pads. Around your own home, consider using a pet friendly ice melt.

Apart from ice melt, your pet may come into contact with antifreeze. The taste of antifreeze is sweet and attractive, yet it is a deadly poison. If you are using antifreeze, wipe up any spills and keep it well out of reach. Better yet, consider using an antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol, which can be ingested in small amounts without causing significant harm.

Skin

In winter the humidity of the atmosphere is usually less. Your pet's skin will be drier and could flake. To help avoid this, brush your pet regularly, minimize the frequency of baths, and feed your pet a healthy diet; avoid extra oil or feed supplements unless your vet recommends it. Be vigilant, skin problems are most likely present when your pet has dry flaky skin, its skin looks sore or has open sores, is losing excess hair, its coat is dry and hair pulls out easily, and if your pet is nibbling and biting at itself.

After a spell outside, monitor your pet's ears, paws, and tail, which could get frostbitten. Damage to your pet's tissues will not show up for several days, however, the affected areas will feel very cold. If you suspect frostbite you could try soaking the affected areas in warm water for about 20 minutes but do not massage the frostbitten area. Keep your pet warm and wrapped up and take it to the vet as soon as you can.

Parasite control

Winter is a good time to take your pet to the vet for a check up. Especially it you live in a high mosquito area where your pet could have been bitten and possibly been infested with heartworm larvae, which could prove fatal if left untreated. With your pet spending more time indoors during the winter with your family, and in the case of cats and dogs possibly carrying roundworms, hookworms, and some types of tapeworms, it is a good idea for your vet to check out your pet and treat or implement preventative measures as necessary.

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