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Keeping Your Pets Safe Outdoors in Winter

January 20, 2014; 9:57 AM

Winter storms don't just affect you -- they also affect your pets.

There are several things you can do to prepare your pets for winter. Contact your veterinarian or local humane society for more information on preparing your pets for an emergency.

Outdoor Pets

Some pets are better suited than others for living outdoors. However, there is a common misconception that dogs will be "fine" if left outside. This is not true! All pets need adequate shelter from the elements and insulation against cold weather. Pets should not be left outside for long periods in freezing weather - like humans, they can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite.

Certain breeds, such as Huskies and Samoyeds are better suited to very cold weather, but the majority of dogs and need your help and intervention. Indoor accommodations are best during extreme temperature drops, but if that is not possible, set up a suitable house in an area protected from wind, rain, and snow. Insulation, such as straw or blankets will help keep in body heat.

If your animal is prone to chewing, do not use blankets or material that can be ingested. Cedar shavings can be irritating to the skin, so use with caution depending on your pet's hair coat.

Caution - do not use a heat lamp, space heater, or other device not approved for use with animals. This is a a burn hazard for your pet and a fire hazard. Pet supply vendors sell heated mats for pets to sleep on or to be placed under a dog house, but read and follow directions carefully before use. Fresh water is a must at all times! Pets are not able to get enough water from licking ice or eating snow. A heated dish is a wonderful tool for cold climates. The water stays cold, but doesn't freeze. Caution needed for animals that may chew.

A Wheaten terrier mix sidelined by salt in his paw. (Credit: Erin Cassidy)

Paw Care

Dogs walking in snowy areas may get large ice balls between their pads, causing the dog to limp. Be sure to keep ice clear from this area. For dogs that have a lot of hair between the pads, keeping it clipped shorter will help with ice ball formation. Dog boots offer protection to those dogs that will tolerate wearing them.

Salt and Chemical De-Icers

Pets who walk on sidewalks that have been "de-iced" are prone to dry, chapped, and potentially painful paws. This will encourage the pet to lick their paws, and ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation and upset. Wash off your pet's feet after an outing with a warm wet cloth or footbath.

Frozen Lakes and Ponds

Animals don't realize what "thin ice" is. Once they fall in, it is very difficult for them to climb out and hypothermia is a very real and life-threatening danger. "Ice skating" dogs are prone to injuries such as cruciate tears if allowed to "skate" with their humans. This is also true of icy walks.

Antifreeze Dangers

Thirsty and curious pets will lap up antifreeze. Just a few licks can be fatal. Lock up antifreeze containers and clean up spills immediately. For more information, please see previous article about antifreeze toxicity.

Heat-Seekers Beware!

Cats will seek warmth where they can get it, and that may be the warm engine of a car just parked. Before starting your car, knock on the hood or honk the horn to scare off any cats - and prevent tragedy.

Arthritic Animals

Arthritis is worse during cold and damp weather. Take special care to handle your pet gently, watch out for icy walks, provide soft (and possibly heated) bedding, and administer any necessary medications.

If Your Pet Sleeps in the Garage

As mentioned above, be on the alert for any antifreeze leakage or antifreeze containers left out where they could spill or be chewed on. Also, do NOT start the car in a closed garage - for your safety and your pet's safety - carbon monoxide poisoning is a silent killer.

Utilize these tips to ensure your pet's safety during the winter season.

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