As I type this, we are getting an odd pre-Thanksgiving snow. When the cold weather arrives, many pets need a change in care. Even within a species or breed, animals will handle the cold differently. An individual pet will handle cold weather differently year to year or even in the same season based on age, health and/or grooming.
Let’s look at cold weather care for pets.
Dehydration is not a warm weather only thing. Pets still need access to fresh water during the winter when they are outside. Use heated bowls or change the water frequently.
Keep your pets leashed and cats inside. Snow cover may mask scents that could help them find their way home if they stray.
Make sure your pet is well groomed. Matted coats do not hold warmth. If your pet is double-coated, shaving to make grooming easier for you removes an important part of them staying warmer when outside.
Pet clothing should be function over fashion. Choose items that are water repellant, lined and allow for freedom of movement, including the ability to go potty. Many items, though cute, may be ill-suited for colder weather.
Wipe your dog’s feet after walks. De-icing chemicals, salt, etc. are dangerous. Consider boots if your dog will wear them. Use pet-safe deicer at home.
Antifreeze and other vehicle chemicals can be deadly in small amounts. Use care when winterizing vehicles. Antifreeze is sweet and can attract animals and children. This is another good reason to keep your dog leashed and cats indoors.
Nutritional needs change during winter. The pet’s activity level in the winter and time spent outside will determine how to adjust feeding.
Consider the shelter you offer. A good shelter has an entry protected from wind and is waterproof, insulated. It must have dry bedding.
Consider an outdoor heating pad too. A piece of wood leaning against your shed or a cardboard box is not adequate. If you have cats that go out or you care for ferals, there are various DIY shelters that are cheap and easy to make.
Check for cats and other critters that may seek shelter under the hood of your vehicle before starting it.
What about wild critters? If you feed birds, do not stop in the winter. Add suet and other higher fat things to the diet.
Birdbath heaters can keep much-needed water from freezing. Piles of leaves left at the edges of your property provide shelter for insects. Various evergreen shrubs provide shelter for birds.
Chimney caps will prevent critters from seeking shelter in your chimney. Make sure chimneys are clear and clean before starting a fire.
Put up bat and ladybug houses for them to hibernate in.
Now, one final thought. Recently Pennsylvania passed a law restricting the time dogs can be outside in certain temperatures. This sounds great on the surface.
However there seem to be no provisions for working dogs. I owned a dog who worked as a livestock guardian dog before the farm went bankrupt. I have been to farms in the winter and watched LGDs at work. I have friends who have working LGDs. There were barns and other shelter, but the dogs chose not to use them.
There are dogs that are well-suited for being outside and are acclimated to it. Not all working dog people are neglectful as some want you to believe.
Now off to let my dogs out again. Then in again. Then out again….
Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.