My columns often focus on preventative care for our pets that spend most of their time inside, and this one is no different. But as temperatures drop to dangerously low levels, all of the cold-weather tips I offer below for when our inside pets venture outside are especially important for pets that spend most of their time outside, or for neighborhood strays that don’t have anywhere to go and need our help at this time of year.
These are familiar and, in many cases, common-sense reminders for taking good care of the animals in our lives when the weather is dangerous. But they are familiar and common-sense because they work. For our animals, they can make the difference between surviving cold weather and being harmed by it.
- Provide deep bedding out of the wind. If you are a caretaker for a stray cat in your neighborhood now is the time to provide shelter if you haven’t already. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive. A cardboard box with the opening facing away from the typical wind direction, filled with deep straw, old blankets, towels or shredded newspaper may be all it takes to prevent significant injury from frostbite. Outdoor dogs should have a dog house or access to a garage or other building to protect them from the wind. Deep bedding that protects from heat loss is equally critical for dogs, even those with long or thick coats.
- Check access to fresh, clean water. Providing access to unfrozen fresh, clean water in this weather is nearly impossible without an electric water bowl heater. Breaking the ice off of the tops of pails and buckets at least twice daily is a big commitment, but it can be done. For most, however, a water bowl heater is an essential piece of equipment for housing dogs outdoors in this climate. A bowl with a heater also can also be used to provide open access to water for outdoor or stray cats.
- Bundle up. Booties and sweaters aren’t just for lap dogs. Ice and snow can damage the paws of any dog, regardless of size or breed. Booties provide protection and insulation for sensitive feet. In the past, dog booties weren’t necessarily fit to stay on a dog’s paws long term. I went through several pairs with my dog trying to find a pair that would stay put. But dog booties have evolved significantly over the past several years due in large part to the number of outdoor activities in which we involve our dogs. The Twin Ports have several local businesses that cater to dogs and that stock booties. Likewise, a sweater or jacket provides extra insulation, particularly for short-coated and lean dogs.
- Monitor outside breaks. Cold weather often leads to a loss of potty training habits and an increase in indoor accidents. It’s easy to open the door, let the dog out and come back several minutes later to let her in. But many dogs are extra sensitive to the cold and may not carry out their normal potty routines when let out. They’ll stand by the door waiting to come back in rather than venture into the cold. It may be necessary to bundle yourself up and accompany your dog outside to make sure she isn’t just holding it until she gets back inside.
- Play it safe. If it’s so cold that you’re turned off by the idea of spending time outside, then your pet probably shouldn’t spend extended periods outside either. Use this as a good rule of thumb when thinking about how much time your animal spends outside in frigid winter weather. And when in doubt, err on the side of caution.