PET FRIENDLY: Keeping Your Pet Healthy in Cold Weather

| December 11, 2013 | 0 Comments | Pet Friendly

This week’s “mixed precipitation event” and subsequent snowstorm helped me realize that the winter season is upon us, ready or not. For those of us with pets that spend time outside, it’s a good time to prepare for the colder days and months ahead so they can enjoy the winter season without risking injury or their general health.

Dogs and cats, despite their furry exteriors, feel cold and wet like we do, even if they may initially be less sensitive to lower temperatures, snow and ice. Often all that’s required from us is some advance preparation, a higher level of alertness of our pet’s condition and minor adjustments in our pet care routines. Here’s my list of the top five issues we need to address to keep our pets safe, content and healthy in the winter:

Pet Exercise – It is more challenging, but vitally important, to maintain a healthy pet exercise routine when temperatures fall and snowy and icy conditions prevail. Adjustments may be necessary, such as: shorter, but more frequent walks or potty breaks; changing the time of walks to avoid the most extreme weather conditions on any given day; and providing pet sweaters other clothing for pets that are small, have short or thin hair, or are very young or seniors that may be more susceptible to temperature extremes.

Snout to Tail Inspection – After taking your pet outside or letting them back into your home after a potty break, pet care professionals generally recommend that you conduct a quick “snout to tail” inspection of your pet.  Inspect their snout, gums and paws for signs of frostbite (ice on body or limbs, shivering, tissues that are bright red or pale to black in color) and/or hypothermia (abnormal lowering of the body’s temperature). Then dry and clean their paws to remove any ice, road salt or other foreign objects, and dry their feet, legs, chest and belly as necessary to help warm them up.

Prepare for Winter Emergencies – When there is inclement winter weather, power outages and road transportation problems are all too common. Make sure you have extra pet food, medication and other supplies on hand during winter months. Have a back-up plan you can execute quickly that includes pet care considerations if you lose power at home, are delayed returning home from work or a trip, or are stranded with your pet in an automobile.

Avoid Overexposure to the Elements – Pets are generally healthiest if they spend most of their time inside during extreme weather and are outside only for regular exercise, play and potty breaks. If you have a dog or cat that remains outside for longer periods of time, you can help avoid dangerous overexposure to winter wind, cold and precipitation if your pet has easy access to a shed or dog house that faces away from the prevailing wind direction, is kept dry and has warm bedding. Fresh water at all times is essential. Many pet stores sell water bowls with a safe, built-in heating element to reduce the risk of frozen water in your pet’s outdoor bowl.

Motor Vehicle Safety for Pets – Pets generally should not be left alone in vehicles in extremely hot or cold weather. If you or your neighbors have outdoor cats or if there are feral cats living near your home, it is a good idea to thump on the hood of your car before turning on the engine in case any of them have taken refuge under your vehicle or in the engine compartment. This will allow them to scurry for alternative cover before an injury occurs.

Chris Bates is the founder of Top Choice Pet Care LLC (, which provides affordable, loving and reliable dog walking, pet sitting and other pet services to the Bristow, Gainesville, Haymarket, Manassas and Nokesville communities.  A farmer’s son, life-long animal lover and pet owner, Chris is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS) through Pet Sitters International and is PetSaver™ trained in pet first aid and CPR.

Pet Lover! Be on the look out for our new Empty Shelter Project column, where we try to find good homes to animals rescued from kill shelters and being fostered within the region. This week, an adorable, young, female pit-mix! 


© 2013, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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