Winter tips: How to protect your pets from the cold

Humane Society International

  • Please don’t leave animals out in the cold! Nataba/istock

Winter is around the corner, which means it is time for pet parents to prepare for the cold air and in some places, chilly rains. Cold tolerance varies from animal to animal and depends on a multitude of factors including coat thickness, activity level, age, health and the body’s fat store. Hence, it becomes important to understand your pet’s needs and take appropriate action to make them comfortable in the bitter cold. Here are 10 simple tips to help you take care of your furry family members.

1. Provide shelter: Keep pets inside, especially at night when the temperatures tend to drop. If left outside, animals can become unsettled, injured, unwell or freeze. Under no circumstances should pet cats be left outdoors, even if they roam outside during other seasons.

2. Keep them warm: Animals feel cold and the winter chill can be threatening to your pet’s life if adequate precaution is not taken. Exposed skin on noses, ears and paw pads are at risk for frostbite during extreme cold snaps, during which the risk for hypothermia also increases. For this reason, short-haired dogs often feel more comfortable wearing a sweater—even during short walks.

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3. Protect the paws: Paw protectants and paw pads can help protect your pet’s feet from cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. In fact, booties are a great way to protect dirt and mud from getting lodged between your pet’s paws.

4. Comfortable sleeping: Pets too like a comfortable sleeping place and many keep changing their resting location depending on their need for less or more warmth. Provide them with comfortable bedding and a few options to enable them to adjust their sleeping place.

5. Feed a bit more: Pets use extra energy to stay warm and a little more food can provide the much need calories to your fur-balls. However, do not over feed the pet because lack of exercise during the cold spell could lead to excessive weight gains and obesity. Additionally, make sure your pet gets plenty of clean water to drink, so that they are well-hydrated.

6. Less bathing: Bathing is good for your pet to remove dirt and muck but if you do it too often it also leads to the loss of essential oils, increasing the chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If you must bathe your pet, it would be a good idea to seek recommendations from your vet for a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse.

7. Watch out for hazards: Since your pet will be mostly staying indoors, ensure that they do not have access to toxic foods like onions, xylitol (a sugar substitute) and chocolate, medication bottles or household chemicals. Use heaters with caution around pets, because they can lead to burns, suffocation and even death.

8. Identify issues: A whining, anxious or shivering pet is a clear sign of illness. If your pets tend to spend most of their time outside, then these symptoms can indicate hypothermia. If you suspect your pet is ill, consult your veterinarian immediately.

9. Protect community animals: Remember, community pets staying outdoors need as much support as indoor and owned pets. Providing easily accessible food and water sources goes a long way in keeping the animals safe. Also, before heading out check your cars as cars are one of many hazards to small animals—warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

10. Be observant: If you encounter a pet left in the cold, courteously let the owner know that you’re concerned. Some people genuinely don’t know the risk that cold weather poses to their pets or livestock, and will be quick to correct any problems you address.