Whether or not they show it, pets are sensitive to colder weather and there are precautions you can take to ensure they stay safe and cosy this winter.
Make sure there’s proper shelter 24/7
Wind chill is real and cold snaps can be sudden – and colder with climate change in charge – so make sure your pets are always protected and have access to safe, warm shelter – when you’re home, when you’re out, and when you’re walking together. A good outdoor shelter is sized for your pets so that it fits all of them comfortably, ensures they warm up quickly with body temperature alone, is sealed properly to keep heat in while still allowing enough air to breathe, has enough warm blankets to further insulate your loved ones while they’re inside, and is raised well off the ground/floor which is incredibly cold.
NOTE: Pets should be brought inside when temperatures drop below 4 degrees Celsius.
No bare floor where sleeping dogs lie!
While they might like to lie on cool concrete or tiles in summer, and even in winter out of habit, dogs and other pets should never be made to sit or sleep on bare floors in winter. It can enflame arthritic joints (got an older German Shepherd?) and lower their overall body temperature. A single blanket may not be enough to stave off the chill either. Would you lie there and snooze on it
Dress (doggy) for the weather.
As you put on extra layers of clothing in winter, your pet may appreciate some, too. An easily-washable doggie jersey is great, especially for short-legged dogs who run close to the ground and often get wet from it. No loose, lengthy, floppy or dangly bits on pet jerseys, please. Flapping Hoodies, wiggling ribbons, and bouncing pom poms can lead to accidents and even strangle an animal. And don’t forget that a pet with a piece of clothing near the heater is going to get really hot really fast – remember to take it off when the room warms. If you’re comfy in a t-shirt, your pet probably doesn’t need a second layer unless it’s old or very young, or a reptile (but you’ve asked your vet about temperature control for the cold-blooded, right?).
TIP: Look for a doggie jersey that’s waterproof underneath if your dog is very active outdoors.
Watch out for winter poisons.
Antifreeze is a chemical that helps keep your car running in the cold. It is often added to radiators in winter. It is poisonous to pets and people but has a sweet taste and unwitting pets will eat it if given half a chance. Make sure you seal and dispose of all empty antifreeze bottles properly and don’t spill any while you’re filling up the radiator. You don’t want those curious noses to sniff them out and those clever tongues, teeth, jaws, and claws to get anything out of the bottle.
Exercise is still important.
We’re all inclined to stay inside in colder weather, including pets. Some may naturally hibernate or become less active, like some reptiles, but mammals need to move. Encourage non-hibernating pets to get active by playing food games with them. “For dogs that are food-motivated, you can encourage activity by spreading meals throughout different parts of the house or throwing kibble to have your pet chase it down a hallway,” Dr. Deborah Linder, research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University tells PetMD. “Mentally stimulating dogs can also be a great way to get them moving with food-dispensing toys and interactive or puzzle toys.” It will raise their body temperature and help maintain their metabolism.
TIP: Change your routine, route, or activities in colder weather. The mental stimulation might distract dogs from momentary discomfort when they’re initially outside.
Adjust winter diet under expert guidance.
Warming the body takes extra energy, but some pets do far less in winter and need less of it, so consult your vet about adjusting your pet’s diet over the colder months to accommodate this. “My dog loves the snow,” Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, service chief for the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s community practice tells PetMD. “She’ll go out five or six times a day when it snows to play. On those days, she may need more calories because of the increase in exercise,” she says. “Other dogs don’t like to go out at all—even for potty breaks. Because they’re less active, they should consume fewer calories.” Depending on the climate where you live, pets’ skin may also dry out, and foods with extra oils like coconut oil can help reduce the uncomfortable instances of cracked skin.
Protect those paws from ice.
Pets with paws have very sensitive, exposed skin. If you live somewhere that gets frost, ice, or snow, and you like to take walks outside, consider winter booties for the pets who walk with you. While kitties are unlikely to allow you to put booties on them, you can check their paws each time they return from the cold outside to make sure the skin is ok. If your cat goes out hunting, she may come back with blistered paws from walking barefoot in the extreme cold. Check between the toes, too, please. And, of course, this goes for pooches, too.
TIP: Wipe wet paws to remove ice, salt and other chemicals that might be frozen to sensitive paws.
Get a heater barrier.
Have you ever melted your slippers resting them on the outside of the heater or burnt your arm sitting too close to it? Or fallen asleep near one to the sound of sizzling, burning hair and discovered your head is on fire? We hope not, but pets can make the same mistakes with a heat source and be badly burnt. It’s very inviting when you’re very cold, but it can quickly get too much if you get too close. Put barriers in place to keep pets a safe distance from all heaters, whether they’re gas, electric or firewood-fuelled. Secure furnaces and fireplaces at all times. Don’t let pets have direct access to electric blankets (as there’s also a risk of electrocution if they chew the wires, or they’re wet).
NOTE: Carbon monoxide is a gas you can’t smell, taste, or see, but it can kill. If you have a gas heater, make SURE you have at least two vents open (ideally diagonally across from each other, like a window and a door) for fresh air to flow into the space.
Know when it’s too cold.
Any mammal can succumb to the cold with nasty conditions like frostbite on the ears or hypothermia of the whole body. If it’s too cold outside for you to bear, it’s probably too cold for your pet to be outdoors. Very young pets and older ones will also be more susceptible to low temperature, wind chill, and the wet than adult pets are and could get very ill from it. “Watch for signs that your pooch can’t handle the deep chill,” suggests PetFinder. “They can include shaking, cowering, repeatedly lifting up her feet and continuously trying to go back inside” (even after a little moving around and warming up. Remember: Hypothermia can kill.
Watch the water.
Pets need access to fresh water at all times, indoors and outdoors, even in winter when they might be less active. The dryness and warmth of artificial indoor heating can make them thirstier than usual. If you live in a really cold area, consider a heated bow like this or this to keep water from freezing.
Give pooch fewer baths and dry them if they get wet
As you know after a good hot shower, outside body temperature changes with heated or cold water. Add a coat that retains that, you can figure out why we’re suggesting you ease up on the regular baths for your pet in winter, but not to the point where pooch becomes unpleasant to be around. If your pet has fur that’s wet, best to towel her down.
NOTE: It’s extremely important that your dog be entirely dry before being exposed to outdoor air. We’re assuming you don’t bath your parrot.