In many households, beloved pets are truly members of the family. They receive regular veterinary check-ups, snuggles, and even a stocking at Christmas. However, winter is a hazardous time of year for animals, who should always be brought indoors when the weather turns fierce. Here are nine ways to keep pets safe when it's freezing outside — because the elements impact our four-legged pals, too.
Every year, the world experiences more weather extremes, and that includes freezing cold temperatures, blizzards, and hail storms. According to an Animal Humane Society spokesperson in Minnesota, who spoke with Romper, the first rule is simple: if it's too dangerous for you to be outside, it's too dangerous for Fido and Fluffy, too. Ideally, you should bring all pets inside in freezing and sub-freezing temperatures. If there are outdoor animals in your neighborhood, know that they'll need shelter, food, and drinkable (not frozen) water to protect themselves from the freezing winds. And when the thermostat drops below zero, spread the word — it's time to get everyone indoors, stat.
In winter, indoor animals face a lot of the same problems their people do — namely, boredom and weight gain from shorter walks and less time at the dog park. (Here in currently-arctic Colorado Springs, the dog park is basically a yellow ice rink.) Keep your pets healthy and engaged by playing with them each day.
If you wouldn't be safe left to your own devices out of doors, neither will your animals. Cats might act like they can take on the world, but they're really just as vulnerable as we are, explains a spokesperson at the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota in an interview with Romper. If you have outdoor pets and it's too cold for you to feel comfortable, then it's time to rein them in.
"Although they are equipped with fur and feathers, dogs, cats, birds, and other animals can still suffer from frostbite, exposure, and dehydration when water sources freeze," writes Ben Williamson, Senior International Media Director at People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in an email to Romper. "Backyard dogs" especially suffer from a variety of ailments and stresses during inclement weather.
PETA also urges pet owners to remember that "puppies and kittens, elderly animals, small animals, and dogs with short hair — including pointers, beagles, pit bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans — are particularly susceptible to the elements."
For those looking for a hard-and-fast temperature, Jennifer L. Summerfield, DVM CPDT-KA, of Brown Veterinary Service in Wayne, West Virginia, tells Romper in an interview that she advises clients to be wary when the thermostat drops below 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. However, she notes that some breeds are designed for cold and snow, so it's OK to take your cue from the individual dog as well.
"A Siberian husky or Great Pyrenees with the big thick hairy coat, this is what they were bred for," explains Summerfield. "What I tell dog owners is to take their cue from the dog. If your dog seems comfortable, they’re active, and they don’t want to come inside even when you encourage them, they’re probably doing OK. Things that you’d want to watch for that tell you they might get cold is shivering or hunkering down in one place."
According to Summerfield, whose book Train Your Dog Now! comes out in March, dogs may also hold a paw up to you and refuse to move as a way to say, "It's too icy. Let's go inside now."
"Outdoor animals need some kind of enclosure or space where they can get away from the cold and the elements," notes the Animal Humane Society. Make sure your doghouse is moisture-proof and wind-proof, and don't leave your dog outside in freezing temperatures, or if you yourself couldn't safely spend time outdoors.
If an animal does spend time outside, they'll need extra food — they burn extra calories to keep warm — and access to drinkable, unfrozen water.
"When you see dogs left outdoors, provide them with proper shelter," explains Williamson of PETA. "Doghouses should be made of wood (metal is a poor insulator) and positioned in a sunny location during cold weather. Raise the house several inches off the ground, and put a flap over the door to keep out cold drafts. Use straw for bedding (rugs and blankets can get wet and freeze)."
Remember, it's really best to bring your outdoor pet inside for a winter staycation as soon as the weather turns. They feel the ice in the air, too.
Watch indoor cats and dogs for changes in behavior as winter deepens. They might need more water or entertainment — they might also get chilly on the kitchen floor. Consider putting the kids on modified Paw Patrol — their job is to watch Fluffy and Fido for signs that the weather is getting to them. According to Williamson at PETA, animals that catch a parasite this time of year are robbed of vital nutrients during a vulnerable time, so don't hesitate to see a veterinarian if they seem unwell.
"Because they aren’t getting that outdoor exercise, it's great to do enrichment inside," says the Animal Humane Society. "Games you play with your animal and toys, that goes a long way during these bitterly cold months." You can learn more about environmental enrichment at the Indoor Pet Initiative.
"Once we get into these zero and subzero temperatures, dogs should only be outside for quick potty breaks," explains the Animal Humane Society. If you plan longer walks, take your dog's breed into consideration. "An 80-pound husky is going to tolerate this weather a little better than your 2-pound chihuahua, so you can look at the individual animal, too. But once we get into deep freeze, very short potty breaks only."
"In cold weather, cats sometimes climb under the hoods of cars to be near warm engines and are badly injured or killed when the car is started. (To help prevent this, bang loudly on the hood of your car before starting the engine.) Animals can also become disoriented when there is snow or ice on the ground," according to PETA's spokesperson.
This is the stuff of nightmares, and yet another reason to bring the whole family inside until spring.
While long-haired breeds have slightly more natural protection from the elements, short-haired dogs will benefit from sweaters or coats, according to PETA — and look cute at the same time. Remember: if you're shivering, take brief walks only.
This morning, I saw a puppy and her owner dressed in matching Bridget-Jones style Christmas sweaters. Best. Couple. Ever.
If your cat has a habit of slipping outside depsite your best-laid plans, construct a cat shelter or designate another safe, warm place for him.
"A cat shelter is pretty easy to build out of just an old plastic tote with a bit of bedding," explains an Animal Humane Society spokesperson. "Anything that gives them some relief from the elements — a spot in your garage, or in a rural area, a little barn where they can get away from the cold — that’s going to be your best bet."
Below freezing? Give your cat an irresistible spot by the fire and make sure she's there whenever you plan to leave the house.
After you bring Fido or Fluffy in from the snow, remember to dust off their legs, feet, and stomach. "Salt and other chemicals can make animals sick if they are ingested while the animals are cleaning themselves," according to PETA. The organization also suggests buying non-toxic antifreeze made with propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol, which can be poisonous to animals even in small doses.
You can also buy pet booties to protect your dog's feet from the ice, salt, and chemicals on the sidewalk, accoding to the Animal Humane Society, or even a vaseline-like product to keep the ice out.
"Regardless of whether you use those products or not, once you’re inside, check their paws to make sure there’s no ice or salt built up in their paw pads — that can really be detrimental later on, so remove that right away," explains the Animal Humane Society.
Many states have laws on the books to protect pets in winter. If you see animals left outside in your neighbor, offer to contribute adequate shelter, like the dog and cat houses described above. If you find an animal in need of help, you can also call PETA at 757-622-7382.
Also keep an eye out for stray cats, advises PETA. "Take unidentified animals inside until you can find their guardians, or take them to an animal shelter. If strays are wild or unapproachable, provide food, water, and shelter (stray cats will appreciate a small dog-house filled with warm bedding), and call your local humane society for assistance in trapping them and getting them indoors."
Sometimes kids speak up for animals even when grown-ups don't. You can listen to your child and set a great example by teaching them how to safely care for strays — a doubly good deed in winter days.
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