Winter pet safety tips
Unless you live in a tropical place where it never hits freezing temperatures, you’re probably starting to wonder whether your dog or cat should be wearing boots and a jacket for walks or if they should be playing in the snow. According to the ASPCA‘s winter pet safety guidelines, if it’s too cold outside for you, it’s too cold for your pets. That’s when you’ll need to protect your pet from winter cold and hazards from top to bottom.
Your pet’s paws take the brunt of freezing weather effects as ice and snow can burn paw pads and get stuck in between toes, causing pain and damage to their delicate tissues. The ASPCA advises you always bring a small towel on walks to get rid of any stinging ice while outside. Use the towel to thoroughly wipe your pet’s feet upon re-entering the house to remove any ice-melting chemicals, salts or car antifreeze that could be lingering on his or her feet and the surrounding fur. These commonly used winter chemicals are poisonous to dogs and cats that ingest them from licking their feet after being exposed. Inspect your pet’s paw pads often to be sure there is no cracking or bleeding.
- Extra help: If you see your pet’s feet are irritated or sensitive, apply petroleum jelly to paw pads before any outdoor time to further protect them from the cold and wet weather; this also makes removing chemicals easier. Another option to try is booties. Make sure they fit your pet’s paws snugly to avoid them slipping and falling off.
The ASPCA advises against shaving long-haired dogs during winter; they need the benefit of their heat-protective fur. Simply trim any dragging fur to eliminate the probability of ice balls and chemicals getting into their fur. Always towel pets’ bodies off after they’ve been outside, paying special attention to legs and paws, ears, bellies and under their collar to remove any ice balls and chemicals and dry off wet fur and skin. Reduce bathing if possible to avoid removing your pet’s own protective skin oils, which can further cause and worsen dry, flaky skin. While cats generally don’t need winter clothes, if your dog is very small, has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a dog sweater or coat. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advises having multiple sweaters/coats so a dry one is always ready to go; wearing wet sweaters, coats or booties can actually make your dog colder.
- Extra help: If your dog or cat has sensitive, irritated or flaky skin, he or she might benefit from a light topical application of virgin, unrefined coconut oil, according to petMD veterinarians. Just rub a small amount on your hands, smooth over coat in the direction of its growth and then massage down into the skin.
According to the ASCPA, your pet expends more energy in the winter to keep warm, so consider increasing his or her food intake slightly (if your pet is not overweight). Adding organic, virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil to pet food can increase calories, increase energy levels, improve skin and coat, improve digestion and reduce allergic reactions. For cats, it also reduces hairballs. Start with a small dose of coconut oil in your pet’s food: one-quarter teaspoon for small dogs, one-eighth of a teaspoon for cats and up to one teaspoon for large dogs per day. Very gradually over a few weeks, increase the dose, watching for any signs of indigestion, such as diarrhea, or excessive weight gain. Reduce the amount if necessary to find the perfect dose. For energetic pets, gradually work the dosage up to 1 teaspoon per day for small dogs and cats and 1 tablespoon for large dogs.
- Extra help: If you want your pet to test the taste first, add a dab to their nose and let them lick it off.
When it comes to winter pet safety, the AVMA recommends watching your pet carefully outside. Whining, shivering, burrowing, slowing down or stopping are signs of hypothermia, so get your pet back inside. And remember that many outdoor pets find their way under your car to warm up, so always check the hood and honk the horn before starting your car on cold winter mornings.