Ten Tips for Winterizing Your Pets

Oh, the weather outside is frightful! Winter weather is rapidly approaching and you’ve likely begun layering your clothing and weatherproofing your car. When organizing for winter, don’t forget to think about your pets. They too are deserving of special treatment this time of year. Here are ten tips for keeping your pets cozy, comfortable, and healthy this winter:

1.  Just as arthritis can be more problematic for us when the temperature drops, so too does this apply to our animals. If your best buddy appears stiff first thing in the morning or is more tentative when navigating stairs or jumping up and down off the furniture, I encourage you to contact your veterinarian. These days, there are so many beneficial treatment options for soothing arthritis discomfort. For your pet’s sake, make the effort to learn more about them.

2.  When the temperature drops, outdoor kitties like to snuggle up against car engines for extra warmth. Be sure to provide plenty of notice before you start up your engine lest a “kitty squatter” sustain serious injury as a result of moving auto parts. Vocalize and tap the hood a few times. Better yet, lift the hood to alert any slumbering guests of your intentions.

3.  Antifreeze is terribly toxic for dogs and cats. Even a few licks of the stuff can cause kidney failure and severe neurological symptoms, usually resulting in death. Unfortunately, most antifreeze products have a sweet flavor making them appealing to dogs. Cats are too discriminating to voluntarily taste the stuff, but should they step in antifreeze, they will ingest enough to be toxic during their grooming process. Please prevent your pets from having any access to antifreeze by checking under your vehicles for leaks and storing antifreeze containers in a safe place.

4.  Wintertime is definitely dress-up time for dogs, when the clothing is functional rather than just adorable. Just like us, many dogs are more comfortable outside when wearing an extra layer. Smaller dogs in particular have difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature when exposed to freezing conditions. If the love of your canine life happens to be an arctic breed (Malamute, Husky, Samoyed), no need for canine clothing!

5.  Regardless of season, all animals need access to water round-the-clock. If your pet is reliant on an outdoor water bowl, strategize a way to prevent the water from freezing. Water bowl heaters work well. Additionally moving water is more resistant to freezing- consider creating a little “drinking fountain” for your pets.

6.  Sure the weather is cold, but your dogs still need plenty of exercise for their physical as well as their psychological well being. Besides, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of relaxing by the fire with a content and tired dog at your side! If the weather is truly too inclement for both of you to be outdoors, look for an indoor dog park or consider doggie day care, assuming your dog enjoys such venues.

7.  I’m all for hiking with dogs off leash, but in winter, be extra cautious around ponds and lakes for fear of thin ice. Not only is falling through the ice life threatening for dogs, it creates a situation that often becomes life threatening for the humans involved in the rescue operation.

8.  Salt on sidewalks and roads and even ice that adheres to all of that fuzzy hair between your dogs toes can create irritation and sores. Inspect and rinse your dog’s tootsies as needed.

9.  I strongly encourage having dogs and cats live indoors. If your living situation absolutely prevents this, and there are no other viable alternatives, please provide your pet with an enclosed shelter that is warmed by a heating device and contains plenty of clean, dry bedding. Also, remember that your pet needs just as much attention from you in frigid temperatures as during the warmer seasons.

10.  ‘Tis the time of year when we humans tend to overindulge, eating all kinds of things we shouldn’t. Don’t allow your pets to become a victim of this holiday spirit. In addition to adding unwanted and unhealthy pounds, eating rich and fatty foods predisposes them to gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis either of which could land your four-legged family member in the hospital for several days (not to mention create some significant rug-cleaning expenses for you).

What steps do you take to ensure your pets will be happy and healthy during the winter?

Wishing you and your four-legged family members a joyful and healthy holiday season.

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.







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6 Comments on “Ten Tips for Winterizing Your Pets

  1. There is one thing I do that isn’t on your list.

    When snow and ice fall, salt is soon to follow at least it is here in NW Pennsylvania. I apply “Muscher’s Secret” to his paws, to create a barrier between his pads and the salt in the slushy water.

    Ludden is on city streets a lot as part of his job and just rinsing the pads isn’t enough, I found I had to protect the pup’s pads to keep him happy and walking.

    Foot protection may definitely be something people should look into if they live in a city or town and plan on taking the pup for a walk.

  2. Great tips, Nancy.

    In addition, when hiking w/ dogs in winter months please know the terrain. There may be a pond underneath a layer of snow that you wouldn’t know about when hiking unknown places.

    There are many ways to entertain a dog indoors on bad weather days. Hide and seek, w/ toys or even yourself. I’ve found myself putting the dogs on a STAY in the living room while I hid in the bathtub. When I yell, ‘OK” they come a running to try to find me. You’re training as well as getting your dog exercised. Throwing the ball from upstairs to downstairs is also a good way to get their ya yas out.

    Holiday parties can be hard on dogs in lots of ways. Making a sign that says PLEASE DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS is a good way to discourage guests to feed table scraps.

    Happy Holidays everyone.

    AKA Shewhisperer

  3. I would also add that since hunting season is in full swing be aware of your state’s hunting laws. I have just purchased orange vests for my dogs as we hike and track in areas where there is a chance of hunters being present. Hopefully these orange vest will alert hunters that we are there. I also put bells on the dogs and only walk where I’m pretty sure no hunting is taking place. Can never be sure but like Dr. Nancy says dogs need exercise so I use caution.

  4. More great reminders, Dr. Kay, thank you. Living in Alaska, we know how harsh (and beautiful) winter can be, but that doesn’t stop us from getting out for daily walks. I make sure both of my dogs wear booties when the thermometer dips below about 10 degrees.

    My nearly 11 year old Rotty still gets her daily half-mile walk and even though she has arthritis, she seems spunkier when it’s colder. My young shelter rescue (a large lab mix) thrives no matter what the weather. I keep wondering if he needs a fleece jacket when we get below zero on our walks (he’s short-coated, with no undercoat like my Rotty) but he’s never acted cold.

    Another precaution we use on our walks during our shorter days is high-viz vests. I found a great one for Boone that doesn’t interfere with his movement and he definitely stands out [you can see a pic of him in his vest on my blog :-)].

    I also like to play “brain games” indoors when the weather is just too dangerous for daily walks. “Find it” and nosework are good ones for Boone. And there’s always obedience exercises we can work on in just about any size space.

    Thanks, as always, for your timely and useful information!

    Jeanette (and Lexi and Boone, of course)

  5. I love all your tips. I have a very arthritic older boxer. She was to the point of not being able to navigate steps. I took her to a veterinarian who does chiropractic and acupuncture and after several treatments it is like I have a puppy again- she bounces all over the place. However, I do remember that she is older and put a coat on her when we go out and the temperature is below 35 degrees. My two old dogs still need and love their exercise and go and walk at the lake almost daily, however it is always on leash.