Like people, some pets love the winter snow and cold, and others hate it.
Our dog Dulice was not deterred by the snow but found a terrier’s dream as it allowed winter burrowing. My current dog Muppy, a rescue from Mississippi, hated her first seven winters in Maine. However, Muppy enjoys a good roll in the snow today as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 30 F. Our cat Boomer enjoys outdoor journeys on a harness and leash and lying in the summer sun, but when it comes to winter cold, he says, “Are you crazy?!”
As the ones responsible for our pet’s health and well-being, we must ensure their comfort in the cold winter months and prevent them from overdoing it. Below are some tips to help you keep your pets safe and comfortable in the winter.
Exercise and Bathroom Breaks
The best place for our pets in winter is indoors with us. When we take them out for exercise and bathroom breaks, we must ensure they are not exposed to the cold for extended periods. Be aware that the wind chill affects your pet just like it affects you. If it’s below freezing, their time outdoors should be minimal. I recommend you stay out with them to remain keenly aware of how the cold feels. Remember, your dog has a lower body mass, is barefoot, and will be affected by the cold quicker than you.
The graphic below offers guidance on how the cold weather affects your dog.
Depending on your dog’s size and predisposition towards snow, be prepared to create paths for your dog in the wintertime so they can reach their bathroom area. As I noted above, Dulcie was a little tiger in the snow, Muppy not so much.
Also, be aware that decks, just like roads, can develop black ice. Muppy likes to fly on and off our deck. One day she hit black ice as she landed, resulting in a back injury and trips to her regular vet and veterinary acupuncturist. I have since taught her a “slow” behavior to prevent her from launching herself, but I need to be present to supervise her.
- I recommend keeping your dog on a leash unless in a fenced area. This is especially important if your pet has access to frozen ponds or streams. This is because they can slip and fall in, or the ice can break, and they can fall in, with potentially fatal results for the dog and you.
- Be cautious about allowing your dog on crusty snow and ice as it can have sharp edges that can cut the skin and pads of some thinner-skinned breeds.
- If your pet gets wet in the rain or snow, dry them off with a towel when they come back inside.
- If your pet has been walking on areas treated with salt or any deicer, wipe their feet and pads with a damp cloth. In addition, you may want to consider using one of the pet-safe products for melting ice.
- Shorter-haired and smaller dogs or dogs acclimated to warmer climates may need a coat and perhaps booties to stay comfortable when it gets cold outside. Not all dogs will immediately accept a coat and especially booties. Be patient and offer plenty of treats as you help them acclimate to their new attire.
Grooming and Feeding for Cold Weather
- If you have a long-haired pet, keep them groomed and free of mats and tangles. While long hair will act as an insulator, it loses its insulating properties when it becomes matted.
- If your pet has long hair on their feet or in between their pads, you may want to have your groomer cut that hair short so it does not accumulate snow when your pet is outdoors. Snow between the pads quickly turns to ice balls which can become very uncomfortable for your dog. Check for ice balls immediately if you see them biting at their feet.
- If your pet is out in the cold a great deal, you may want to increase the amount you feed them, as they will be expending additional calories to stay warm.
Better to Be Safe Than Sorry
Leaving your pet in a car can be just as problematic in the wintertime as in the summer. If you leave the motor running, always leave a window partially open if you have an exhaust leak. However, do not leave the window open so far that your dog can get out of the car. I never take my dog in the car if the weather is unpredictable or they do not need to be with me. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
I am opposed to keeping a dog chained outside to a dog house at any time of the year, especially in the winter. I believe it is inhumane. However, if you do so, you are responsible for ensuring your dog has access to adequate shelter at all times. In addition, dog houses should be positioned or designed such that the wind does not blow through the door into the house. Finally, Maine state law requires dogs to have access to fresh water. If the temperature drops below freezing, you will need a heater for the water bowl. Snow is not an acceptable substitute!
When your pet is indoors, ensure they have a warm, dry spot away from drafts. Tile floors and uncarpeted areas may become cold and uncomfortable. If you heat with wood, make sure you have guards around the fireplace or woodstove to prevent your dog from being burned.
Cats Who Live an Indoor-Outdoor Life
I have not said much about cats in winter because the data tells us that the survival rate for indoor-only cats is much higher than for indoor-outdoor cats. Of course, the best place for most pet cats is indoors, as long as we provide them with an enriched interactive environment to express their normal behaviors, but that’s another article. I know cats who live an indoor-outdoor life and would be unhappy being contained indoors all the time. However, the people who share their life with these cats take extra measures to ensure their cats are inside in lousy weather and every night.
Please, keep your pets safe and comfortable this winter.
About the Author
Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don’s blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.
©1-Feb-23, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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