As frigid temperatures persist and the prospect of heavy snow looms, humans take every precaution to stay warm and comfortable. We protect our bodies with all matter of insulated garb, race off to the store for last minute provisions, rent DVD's, gas up the snow blower and wait for "the big one".
But what about four-legged family members? Are they prepared for the worst of Old Man Winter? Here are some tips to keep pets safe, cozy and happy when the mercury dips below freezing or a crippling storm hits:
Provide Adequate Shelter
Dogs and cats are susceptible to hypothermia and can actually freeze to death in extreme cold. Young and elderly pets are most at risk. While all pets are better off indoors, outdoor enclosures should be elevated and filled with straw and other dry bedding for insulation. A variety of heated beds are available at most pet supply outlets.
Pamper Those Paws
Wipe and examine paws after each walk or trip outside. De-icing chemicals can irritate paw pads and freezing temperatures can cause pads to crack. Protective paw balms and booties are sold at many pet retail outlets. Keep hair between paw pads trimmed to reduce ice and snow build up. Remove any ice balls promptly.
Adjust Water & Food For The Season
Invest in heated water bowls for outdoor use unless you can change water before it freezes (BassPro, PETCO, Amazon.com sells them). Feed outdoor pets a hearty, high protein diet to promote coat growth and sustain body temperature. Less active indoor animals may require more water to combat dry winter air, but have lower calorie requirements
Use Caution in Snow
There's nothing more exhilarating than a romp through a winter wonderland with Fido. But remember, while you are all bundled up and warm, your dog is totally exposed. A wet, shivering animal needs to come out of the cold. Keep I.D. on Fido and do not let him off leash unless he is totally reliable on the "come" command. Snow impairs a dog's scenting ability and more pets are lost during winter than any other time of year.
Cars Can Be Death Traps
Do not leave any pet in a parked car when temperatures plummet below freezing. Winter cold is just as dangerous as summer heat to a pet left unattended in a vehicle-the passenger compartment literally becomes a refrigerator. Roaming outdoor cats often seek the warmth of a car engine for sleep. Bang on the hood of your car before starting the engine to give furry squatters a chance to escape.
Garage Hazards To Avoid
Clean up any antifreeze spills or other fluid drippings immediately. The sweet taste attracts both dogs and cats, and toxicity is extremely high. Keep mouse and rat bait out of reach. If your pet has ingested even a trace amount of such chemicals, call your veterinarian right away.
All Pets Are Different
Double-coated Northern breeds such as Newfoundlands and Malamutes fare better in severe cold than, say, greyhounds and Great Danes. But any dog can become a "chilly dog" if left outside too long. Coats and high necked sweaters are advisable for many short-haired breeds. Signs of frostbite include pale skin very cold to the touch on ears, paws, nose or tail.
Keep Up With Grooming
Never shave a pet down during winter months (unless medically necessary), as a longer coat offers protection from the elements. After bathing be sure pets are completely dry before allowing them outside. Brush regularly to remove dead hair and stimulate new growth.
Play Indoor Winter Games
Despite his Northern roots and thick coat, Barney has become a bit of a winter wuss (just like mommy). To keep his mind and body exercised we play "hide and seek" games indoors which actually wears him out more than a brisk game of fetch in the yard.
Put your dog in a sit/stay and hide his favorite toy or treat in increasingly difficult places. Then command a happy "Go get it!". Or hide yourself and issue a "Come" command. Great fun with immediate rewards.
By Karen L. Steinrock, Pet Columnist, Harrisburg Patriot News & Allentown Morning Call. To read more from Karen Steinrock, visit www.pennlive.com/pets.
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