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Whether you call them your fur babies, four-legged children, or any number of ridiculous (adorable!) nicknames, there’s no question: your pets are a cherished part of your family. And as a responsible, caring pet parent, you know that your furry companions benefit from plenty of exercise and outdoor time. However, you likely also know that not all weather is suitable or safe for your pets. Without the proper safety precautions, cold weather can be dangerous, or even deadly, for your beloved pets.

In this post, we’ll outline what you can do to keep your critters warm, cozy, and safe all winter long.

Keep animals sheltered

First and foremost, know that your pets need shelter from the cold. It doesn’t matter how thick your dog’s coat is, or how much they seem to love frolicking in the snow: this is non-negotiable. As hardy as your pets may seem, they are no more adapted to spending long periods of time out in the cold than you are. One simple rule of thumb? If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pets.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should keep your pets cooped up indoors 24/7 just because it’s cold outside. Your pets still need exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. But keep a close eye on them during outside playtime, and don’t let them stay outside too long: different breeds have different levels of cold tolerance, but hypothermia, though rare, can affect any pet left outside for too long. Already cold temperatures tend to drop even more at night, so you should always bring your pets back inside for bedtime.

Depending on where your pet settles down for the night, however, just being indoors might not be quite enough to keep them safe and comfortable. Your pets need more than just a roof and four walls: they need a warm place to sleep. A corner of the concrete floor in your cold garage or basement just won’t cut it. And think about it — you would never let a human family member sleep in such miserable conditions. There’s absolutely no reason your four-legged family members should be subjected to them, either.

That said, there is such a thing as too warm. Our cats and dogs may love to snuggle up in front of fireplaces or portable heaters, but you shouldn’t let them have too much of a good thing. Spending too long in front of strong heat sources can lead to overheating in your pets. Your pet may grumble about giving up their toasty spot of choice, but this is a situation in which you need to step in for your pets’ own good. Limit your pets’ fireplace time, keep them a safe distance from the heat source, and use a fireplace screen to protect them from flying sparks.

Winter weather walks

As we mentioned above, just because the weather is cold doesn’t mean your pets don’t need some exercise and time outside. With the right precautions, winter walks are a great, safe way to keep your pet active, even in cold weather.

Heading out

There are a few things you can do to make cold weather walks more pleasant for you and your pets. First of all, scheduling is key. If you can, schedule your walks for daytime hours, such as the early afternoon, rather than the evening. You’ll likely enjoy warmer temperatures, and you’ll also be more visible to passing cars.

Secondly, be sure to bundle up. You wouldn’t go out in the snow in your summer clothes, would you? Safe to say your dog doesn’t want to either. Consider wrapping your pup up in a dog sweater or an insulated winter jacket. If using sweaters, and going for multiple walks in a day, it’s a good idea to have multiple sweaters on hand. A cold, damp sweater won’t do much good in keeping your dog warm, so make sure to swap them out once they get wet.

And don’t forget about your dog’s feet! Their paws might be tough, but that doesn’t mean they’re meant to deal with the cold. If your dog is a breed with long hair in between its toes, make sure to keep it well-trimmed. Long toe hair can pick up clumps of snow and ice, leading to pain or temporary lameness.

Or why not protect your dog’s paws with boots? They might look a little goofy, but snow booties can protect your pup’s paws from getting too cold and drying out, and from salt and chemicals used to melt ice. If your dog won’t deal with boots, you can also try a paw wax. Petroleum jelly or Vaseline makes a good option as well.

On all walks, even if your dog is all bundled up, don’t stay out in the cold for too long. Keep walks to a reasonable length, and keep an eye on your dog’s behavior — they will tell you if they are getting too cold. If you notice signs like whining, shivering, or constantly lifting and licking their paws, it’s well past time to head home.

Heading home

Once you and your pet have had enough of the cold, there are a few things you should do before letting your dog loose inside.

First, clean their paws. Wipe down your dog’s paws with a warm, damp washcloth, and dry them off with a towel. This will help make sure there are no ice-melt chemicals left on your dogs’ paws, preventing them from licking up anything they shouldn’t.

Next, moisturize. While your pets’ skincare routine probably doesn’t need to be as thorough as yours, they can benefit from some extra attention to the skin of their paw pads. Apply a layer of paw wax, pet-safe skin conditioner, or a natural alternative like coconut oil to prevent rough, cracked paws.

Pet health at home

There are several things you can do at home to make winter more comfortable for your pet. First, take steps to prevent dry skin. Keep your home humidified and bathe your pet sparingly. Both over-bathing and dry air can dry out your pet’s skin, just as it does yours.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on your pet’s diet during the winter. Some pets need a higher calorie intake to help them maintain their weight in cold weather. If you notice your pets’ energy is lower than usual or they’ve lost a little bit of weight, consider feeding them a little bit more and checking in with your vet to make sure everything is okay.

If you have antifreeze in your home, make sure it’s out of reach of your pets. Even very small amounts of this toxic chemical are deadly to both dogs and cats.

Car (and pet) care

You may enjoy traveling with your pets, but doing so in the winter can prove dangerous without the proper precautions. When bringing your dog or cat along for the ride, never leave them in the car alone. You probably know that this isn’t safe in the summer, but it isn’t a good idea in the winter either. Cars are not well-insulated against the outside elements. A pet left in a cold car can rapidly become too cold and possibly even develop hypothermia.

Also, make sure to check under your hood, in your wheel wells, and underneath your car before you head out. Cats have been known to curl up in these spaces to try and keep warm. You can also look out for stray cats by setting up insulated shelters to help them keep warm without climbing under cars.

Look out for other people’s pets

We know that not everyone deserves the privilege of pet ownership. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily keep cruel people away from pets. If you see a cat or dog left out in the cold, don’t hesitate! Contact your local animal control agency right away. They can take your complaint and advise you on what to do next.

For more information on pet safety, such as what to do if you’re in an accident with your pet, or to look at your car insurance options, contact us or get a quote today.

Article last updated on May 31st, 2023 at 3:57 pm

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