The frost is on the pumpkin…literally, thanks to the snowstorm that slammed the northeast over the weekend. It's a little early for shoveling at Pets HQ in Brooklyn, we feel, but it's a great time to get a jump on winterizing your pets.
So take a break from reuniting with your fuzziest sweaters (or glaring at your heating bill) and review these tips and tricks for keeping your pet toasty and safe come the cold weather!
If your cat spends part or all of her time outside, bring her in. Fur doesn't mean round-the-clock warmth; if you feel too chilly to spend time outdoors, chances are your cat does too. Some cats hate to stay in, though, so make sure she has a water- and windproof spot to hunker down in if the need arises, and stock it with food and (unfrozen) water on a regular basis.
Cats will head for the warmest spot they can find, no matter how weird it seems to humans – and that includes under the hood of a car. Before you start your car in the wintertime, bang on the hood first to give any neighborhood felines a chance to escape.The ASPCA has more on cold-weather cat care
Lots of dogs love a gallop in the snow; others get all princessy about wetting their feet. Regardless, try to keep to your usual walking/exercise schedule, even when it's gross outside – it's good for your hound, mentally and physically.
Stay on-leash, though, especially if you live near a pond or other body of water. Dogs don't read "thin ice" the way we do, and could fall through. Sliding around on slippery surfaces can cause muscle and ligament strains as well. And dogs can lose scent in the cold, and get lost. Keep them close.
Once you've gone back inside, dry your dog thoroughly to keep her warm; you could even keep a container of warm water near the door, to rinse off toxins from rock salt and other ice melters and dissolve any ice balls between her toes. After she's dry, give her a good brushing to improve her skin, coat, and circulation in the dry winter air – and if you clip her close the rest of the year, leave her coat longer when it's cold out. (Does your dog's fur grow long between her toes? Best to keep that cut short, to prevent those ice balls from forming.) But keep grooming her regularly; clean fur holds warm air better, kind of like layering clothes.Ask your vet about a fatty-acid supplement for wintertime to help your dog's skin and coat, too. Bigger helpings at mealtime, or larger proportions of protein, can also help your dog meet cold weather better; ask your vet about that, too.
And what should she wear? Well, a sweater won't hurt, but dogs lose heat primarily through their ears, paw pads, and respiratory tracts – so if you can get your dog to wear a fleece hat and weather booties, that's your best bet (and is probably faster than washing her feet each time you come in).Worried about hypothermia or frostbite? Spot the signs and treat your pet fast thanks to the Weather Channel
Toasty tots and snug seniors
Puppies, kittens, and older pets may need extra care in wintertime. Puppies, like human babies, regulate their temperatures differently from the way adults do; be aware of this while housebreaking, and consider paper-training as an alternative if it's really cold outside.
Older dogs may not want to go outside much either, so take them outside only to relieve themselves.
Snuggle bunnies (and other outdoor friends)
Bunnies and guinea pigs that live outdoors can tolerate cool temperatures – but if it's very cold, you should find a shed or unused room that provides better shelter. Just make sure you don't put the hutch TOO close to a heat source; rabbits don't do well in high heat. Furnish more bedding and nesting materials like hay or chips for insulation, and inspect the hutch for signs of water intrusion (wet bedding that freezes is a big problem in cold weather).
YCN's own Pauline Enid on getting through the winter with your favorite rodent
And check on them a couple times a day. Any out-of-the-ordinary behaviors – lethargy, lack of appetite, failure to poop – may indicate the onset of hypothermia or some other cold-related illness.
An ounce of prevention
A humidifier takes the sting out of dry air, prevents dry or itchy skin, and cuts down on static "incidents," so it's beneficial for humans as well.
Check your household and garage carbon-monoxide levels, too. An amount we may not notice could affect your pet adversely, and it's just a good idea generally. (If your household smoke alarms don't have a CO detector, upgrade today.)Don't leave pets in the car when it's cold (or ever, really). Vehicles can act like refrigerators and keep cold inside, so if your pet can't come inside with you, leave her at home.
Antifreeze is lethal to all pets – and attractive for its sweet taste. Hose off any sketchy puddles in your driveway or garage, and herd animals away from those areas.
It can get pricey – but if every pet in the house is living in your lap at the same time, you may need to turn the heat up, at least in a couple of rooms.Blizzard headed your way? Lay in a week's worth of food (and toilet supplies, if applicable – litter, cedar chips, etc.), and make sure you have adequate medications on hand. And if the snow keeps you AWAY from home instead of stuck inside it, know your neighbor's numbers (and what kind of gift baskets they might like) in case you need an emergency walker.
Any cold-weather tips we missed? Any Qs or recs about boots or beds? Leave a comment!