Winterizing Blog #3: A Checklist to Keep Your Best Furry Friend Healthy, Safe, and Warm
Often at night, as I lie in bed listening as the cold winds knock at my window and knowing that the temperatures are dropping with each hour, I can hear a lonely bark from a dog somewhere in the dark, tied to his doghouse (or worse – tied to a tree with no doghouse at all), freezing, and begging for warmth. This lonely, sad, and weak bark is a reminder that there are many pets (cats, dogs, pet rabbits, and more) suffering through the cold night. Many have loving owners who have checked the pet’s accommodations and made sure they have a warm, dry shelter; others are left with no additional bedding, frozen water bowls, and on the verge of frostbite, hypothermia, or even death. I cover my head with the blankets, not to stay warm, but to drown out the lonely barks for help, only to wake later in a start when my mind has become aware that the barking has stopped. I then force myself back to sleep and try not to think about why he is not barking any longer.
Keeping a pet outside is a personal decision with several factors that have to be addressed. Personally, I would not own a pet, if it had to be kept outside. I understand though that some people have to do so for reasons sometimes beyond their control. As a pet owner, it is your responsibility to provide the best care possible for your pet for its lifetime. Domesticated animals rely of their owners for their shelter, food, and companionship. Many outdoor pets become forgotten or dismissed, especially in extreme weather conditions.
Just as a winterizing checklist helps us prepare our home and vehicle for winter months, a checklist can also us prepare our pets for winter too.
- Check on your pet’s shelter. Be sure it is big enough for your pet to stand comfortably and turn. It should be dry and draft free. During the winter months provide extra insulation – extra plywood on the inside walls, a blanket to cover the opening while still allowing your pet to go in and out, and extra hay/straw and blankets for warmth. Your pet’s shelter should be leak resistant and the floor should be off the ground.
- Always provide plenty of fresh drinking water. Check bowls often in freezing temperatures, as bowls can freeze leaving your pet dehydrated and sick. Providing a larger tub of water, rather than a bowl, will prevent it from freezing as quickly. You will still need to check it often and make sure any ice is removed from the surface.
- As you start preparing vehicles for the cold – careful to not get any antifreeze and window de-icer where your pet will be – even a very small amount is toxic to pets.
- It is also time to check your emergency supplies and food, in case power outages prevent you from getting to the store for a few days. When assessing water and food for the family, consider enough for pets too. Since winter power outages could take time to restore, have a week or more supply of pet water and food.
- Be sure your pet has a collar with identification tags on and has had shots updated.
- Frostbite and hypothermia is a risk for your pet. Most people believe that cats and dogs can withstand cold temperatures because they have fur. Some dog breeds are more equipped than others and love being outdoors. Most small breeds and short hair breeds do not tolerate cold temperature well. But all animals eventually get cold when left out too long and if temperatures are too cold.
- Outdoor risks rise when there is a lot of wind or your pet’s fur gets wet. This is why it is so important to make sure your pet’s shelter is significant, free from leaks and drafts. As body temperature drops, so do essential functions such as breathing and heart rate.
- Be sure you check the upcoming forecast before letting your cat out, especially if he/she has a tendency to stray far. If a storm moves in while kitty is out, he or she will be more at risk to developing frostbite and hypothermia especially if hurt.
- If the forecast is calling for sub-zero conditions or wind chills with a extreme drop in temps or large amount of snow, bring pets in. If having an outdoor pet in your house is not ideal, this is understandable, but you can still bring your pet into the garage or building. If this causes stress and the dog panics, barks, and scratches – try settling them with food and a warm blanket from the dryer. Be sure there are no toxins or other dangers in the area.
- Pets with arthritis may experience discomfort during cooler months. They should not be left outside.
- When temperatures drop, cats tend to find warm places when left outside. Careful when starting vehicles, make a habit of tapping on the hood to scare them away before turning on the engine. To read more about winter cat houses that you can make for your cat or a neighborhood stray or feral cat, see our pet section.
- When taking your dog for a walk in the snow, be aware that snow/ice surfaces can cause frostbite on their paw pads. Also, be sure to wipe your pet’s paws to remove salt residue – do not let them lick the salt. If your dog with tolerate dog boots, a good pair made with water/snow resistant material is best.
- Cold temperatures tend to keep people inside, therefore outdoor pets miss their companionship during those long, cold, isolated days. Be sure to visit and play with your outdoor pet often – the sunlight and fresh air will be good for your and the company will be good for your pet.