Try these smart strategies to help keep your furry family members warm, dry, and protected during chilly weather.

By Karen Asp
August 26, 2015
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Winter's bitter cold temperatures and numbing wetness can be dangerous for pets that may be accustomed to spending time outdoors. Use these simple guidelines to help household pets remain happy and healthy during the colder months.

Dog wearing bandana in snow

Dress Pets for Cold Weather

When the temp dips to freezing or below, be aware of potential cold-weather issues like frostbite. Many dogs benefit from a cozy coat or sweater, but short-hair and/or small dogs definitely need one; they lose heat more easily. Booties are also a good idea because cold, ice, and salt can irritate, dry out, or even injure paws, says Jennifer Maniet, D.V.M., with Petplan pet insurance in Newtown Square, PA. Get your dog used to the booties by having her briefly pad around in them indoors for a few days before going outside.

Care for Paws

Wipe paws with a warm, damp washcloth after going outside. Also have the groomer trim tufts of fur between pads and nails to limit snow and ice buildup, says Shian Simms, D.V.M., chief of veterinary medicine at Bideawee in New York City.

Pet-Proof the Garage

Antifreeze can kill dogs and cats, and regrettably they’re attracted to its sweet smell and taste, Simms says. Even a small amount can harm them. Clean up antifreeze spills ASAP, and if you suspect your pet has licked any (symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stumbling), immediately take her to the vet hospital (use these first-aid tips to treat your pet until you can get to the vet). Ask your vet to recommend a pet-safe ice-melt product to use on the driveway and sidewalk. Some can be toxic. Also remember that cats have been known to crawl into car engines seeking warmth, so bang on the hood and honk the horn before starting your car.

Keep Dogs Leashed

Many dogs love to play and walk in the snow. If your dog gets separated from you in snowy conditions, she can get lost because her usual smells are muted. Dogs can be difficult to see off-leash in the snow, especially if they’re white. Another safety move: Clear a path through the snow so your dog can easily reach a potty spot.

Provide Adequate Food, Water & Shelter

Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

If your dog is an outdoor dog, she must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.


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