Winter has descended, with plummeting temperatures and chill winds that will require special attention to your pet’s well-being. Dogs and cats are subject to many of the same effects that humans feel during winter, including frostbite and dry, itchy skin. Consider the many simple steps you can take to keep your pet healthy and comfortable.
The basic rule is an easy one: If it’s too cold outside for you, it’s too cold for your pets. Bring them inside! If your pet must spend time outside, make sure it has a weatherproof, insulated house to shelter in. A good shelter will be elevated off the ground, just big enough for your pet to move around in, and well-equipped with warm bedding — straw is best — and a flap over the door. Place it is a sheltered spot with the door facing south, away from winter winds.
Inside or out, your pet needs a constant source of fresh water. Check the water dish frequently in freezing temperatures to make sure it hasn’t iced over, or use a heated dish that will keep water from freezing.
Cold weather places extra stress on older and very young animals. Ask your veterinarian for a check-up that can reveal underlying conditions that may prove problematic in cold weather. Cold can aggravate arthritis and other joint problems, possibly calling for changes in your pet’s pain or anti-inflammatory medications.
Your veterinarian can also recommend a good quality pet food that will nourish the skin and coat, preventing itching and flaking. Creams and lotions are great for human skin, but not for your pet. They will just mat down the hair and rob it of its insulating value. Avoid bathing if possible, but if you must, use shampoos that will moisturize the skin.
Remember that animals are also subject to hypothermia and frostbite. These are potentially serious conditions that call for immediate attention by your veterinarian. If you suspect frostbite, you can gently soak the area in warm — not hot — water, but do not rub! If your animal becomes weak and lethargic, suspect hypothermia and call your veterinarian immediately!
Here are some special hazards to keep in mind:
• Cats love to crawl under the hood of your car to sleep against the warm engine. Be sure to check under the hood or give it a loud bang before starting your engine
• Even a drop or two of antifreeze is deadly to pets, and has a sweetness that makes it attractive. If there is even a chance that your pet has licked antifreeze, seek immediate veterinary care
• Use pet-safe ice melt. Salt can freeze to paws where your pet will lick it.
Winter can be a fun time for you and your pet. What dog doesn’t love a romp in the snow? Using some common sense and a little care will ensure that you both get the most out of winter fun while avoiding its hazards.
Dr. Lawrence Wolf
The New Jersey Veterinary