Published November 06, 2013
The cold winter months are just as hard on pets as they are on people.
There are three major concerns that animal experts feel pet owners should be prepared for as the winter approaches.
The obvious threat that comes with winter is lower temperatures. It is important to protect pets from being left outside too long and getting hypothermia.
"If you wouldn't stay out in that weather, your pet shouldn't either," Director of Pet Care Issues for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) KC Theisen said.
Pets should stay indoors for the winter as much as possible, even if they are normally outdoor animals. If animals cannot be brought in for the winter, you should create a wind proof, waterproof enclosure for them with plenty of clean, dry bedding, according to the World Animal Foundation (WAF).
When animals come in from being outside, it is important that you dry them off if it was raining or snowing.
"A key component to keeping healthy and safe is staying dry when you've been cold," Theisen said.
Although buying clothes for your animals may sometimes seem frivolous, it can actually help keep them dry and safe.
"Adding those layers of protection, like a sweater or a coat and waterproof booty, for your dogs can really help them stay more comfortable in severely cold weather as long as they are comfortable and happy wearing their attire," Theisen said.
Cold weather also brings risks of malnutrition and dehydration.
According to the HSUS, pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes their energy. It is important that animals get the proper amount of food to keep themselves healthy throughout the winter.
It is also very important to keep pets hydrated during the colder months. The HSUS suggests that owners routinely check their pet's water dishes to make sure the water is fresh, not frozen. Plastic food and water bowls should be used instead of metal ones because when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can freeze to metal.
Chemicals such as antifreeze and road salt pose major threats to pets during the winter months.
Antifreeze is toxic to animals and unfortunately has a very sweet aroma that draws animals in. Recently in 2013, manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to add a bittering agent to their product to make them less attractive to animals.
"We really, really hope this is going to reduce the number of pets that are lost each year or sickened each year due to antifreeze poisoning," Theisen said.
Even though this is a huge step, it does not make antifreeze any less dangerous. The bittering agent doesn't make it safe, it just makes it less appealing, Theisen said.
The good news is that there are a lot of things pet owners can do to avoid antifreeze poisoning.
"Pet owners should be sure to store products out of the reach of pets, thoroughly clean up any spills from their vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol," Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Hospital said.
Look out for these warning signs from the WAF that may mean your pet has antifreeze poisoning: staggering, vomiting, not eating, disorientation and copious drinking and urination.
Road salt also poses serious threats for outdoor animals.
"Though paw pads are tough, ice melts can cause them to sting, become irritated and even crack, turning a daily walk into a painful ordeal for your dog," Murray said.
This irritation can most easily be avoided by wiping your pet's feet when they come inside. It is important to watch out for ice balls or little bits of road salt that may be trapped on their feet or between their toes, according to Theisen.
"What we also don't want is for that pet to lick their feet clean and ingest the salts and the dirt from the road where they've been walking," Theisen said.
Blizzards and severe storms pose as much of a threat to pets as they do to humans.
"We recommend that everyone have a blizzard or severe winter storm plan in place that includes their pets," Theisen said.
These severe weather events often lead to power outages, which can make homes dangerously cold for pets. Theisen suggests that owners create an evacuation plan in case of an emergency. Animals need to be included in that plan because they cannot survive in a cold house by themselves.
"If they lose power and feel like they need to go to a hotel, the dog and cat need to come along," Theisen said.
Pet owners should look into what hotels are pet-friendly and call in advance to see if they have vacancies.
Story thumbnail image is of a dog named "Little Guy" plowing through the snow during a winter storm Monday, Dec. 27, 2010 in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)