Winter Pet Care Tips

by Barbara Murray

Small white dog playing in snowJust as with any season, winter offers its own set of gorgeous sites and special circumstances unique to the season. For pet owners in many climates, bitter cold, snow and ice during the winter months poses a challenge. We need to ensure that our pets get enough exercise and change our routine at times when being cooped up indoors for any extended period to keep our pets healthy and happy.

Indoor Gatherings

Winter for many of us means more time indoors and more gatherings with family and friends, which adds up to more visitors in the house. Oftentimes, our pets adjust well to this influx of visitors, other times they do not. As pet owners know, it all depends on the temperament of the individual animal. For example, often cats will simply hide while strangers are in the house. Some dogs want to greet everyone, and if he or she is like my Dylan, the greeting can be a bit too boisterous for your visitors.

My big dogs know immediately when someone enters the house even if they cannot see them. One of them, Moose especially, barks non-stop until he gets to physically be near the person. Then he shies away and the barking is done.

If your pets appear to get overly stressed when visitors enter the house, you can prepare in advance for his and her comfort. Make sure your pets have a safe, quiet and comfortable spot away from the hubbub if it appears to be too much. Offer a favorite toy or blanket or maybe a special treat to help him and her feel more at ease.

Walking in Snow and Ice

Along with making sure your own footing is safe in snow and ice, you may need to protect your dog's paw pads from not only the cold, but from rock salt and chemicals used as de-icing agents. If you can get your pet to wear boots, half the battle is won. Some dogs I encounter will and others will pull them off immediately. Once again, it all depends on the temperament of the animal.

A cat and dog snuggling in the snowPaw care is vitally important during harsh winter weather conditions. If you cannot get your dog to wear booties in the snow and ice, use plain petroleum jelly, with no added perfuming agents, to coat your dog's paw pads before walking on snow and ice. This will especially help protect his paw pads if you're walking in an area that has been treated for snow and ice removal, where the residues from salts and other chemical de-icing agents were left behind. Rub the jelly over and between each pad thoroughly before walking. After the walk is done, remove the petroleum jelly by washing with warm soap and water. Then wash and pat dry each paw pad thoroughly.

Note that not all petroleum jelly products are alike. Some off-brands are inferior in quality and may contain additives not filtered out. Be sure the label says 100 percent pure petroleum jelly to be on the safe side and remember pure petroleum jelly has virtually no smell or taste.

Exercising Indoors During Inclement Weather

If you live in a climate where winter weather involves major snow storms from time to time or temperatures that do not climb above zero for the daily high, you will want to have an alternate exercise plan in place for your pets, specifically for your dogs.

Exercising indoors is not too difficult if you use a bit of imagination and diligence. For example, Dylan loves to play tug-of-war, which is easily accomplished with one of his rope toys. Needless to say this is not like going for a leisurely outdoor walk or running after a ball in the backyard, which he loves to do. But it does help him burn off excess energy and stimulates his mental faculties for a bit as he works on capturing and killing the rope. After twenty minutes or so of playing with the rope, he seems satisfied and ready for a nap. Then later we play with something else he chooses.

My older dogs have no interest in exercise unless coerced and to be honest I do not force them to exercise much when it's bitter cold outside. They will wrestle and tumble around with each other several times a day, but planned exercise outdoors is not their cup of tea.

An Indoor Exercise Idea

Following a routine that includes indoor exercise is something I work on during the cold cold months and looking for ideas of how to change things up, I ran across an article by another pet blogger, (and I apologize for not remembering whom at this time), about hiding bits of healthy food or treats around the house and having your dog hunt them out.

I've tried this with Dylan a few times. He does fairly well with it. I still have to sorta show him where most of the pieces are hidden. It was suggested that you try this with bits of raw vegetables, such as carrots or sweet potatoes, something that doesn't add too much calorie content to your dog's diet. I tried sweet potatoes and although all my dogs like these, Dylan doesn't seem to think pieces of sweet potato are worth hunting. He will, however, hunt small treat bites. Go figure!

Shelters for Outdoor Cats

Frostbite and hypothermia are two serious health concerns for outdoor pets in winter weather or for indoor pets that are out too long, for that matter. For the past few years a small group of animal lovers here in my hometown of Frankfort, Kentucky have built cat houses for feral and semi-feral cats. We use storage crates or Styrofoam coolers for the casing, cut out a hole for a doorway and put lots of straw or hay inside. Sometimes we add a small overhang to keep rain and snow from getting into the house.

Many of these cats have been trapped, neutered and released through the local humane society's TNR program and several colonies are fed regularly by volunteers so we place the containers in sheltered areas near where we know the feral cats congregate. I know for sure many of the temporary shelters are used and hopefully provide a bit of comfort to these feral animals.

Personalized Snow Plan

It's prudent to have a backup plan in place in case of an ice storm or other severe weather that could possibly trap you at work away from your pets. If you have a neighbor you trust that can reach your pets when you can't, think about giving them a key to your house or hiding one somewhere nearby. Also, if the forecast indicates that you may be snowed in for a day or more, be sure you have dog or cat food or both, whichever you need. Any medications your pets need should also be readily available in ample supply.

Special Care for Senior Pets

Two large senior dogs in snowRemember that cold weather often brings more aches and pains for senior pets, especially those suffering with arthritis. If you can get your older dog to wear a sweater, this helps with blood circulation to arthritic joints or just old joints in general. For older dogs that are accustomed to sleeping on beds near the floor, considering raising his or her bed a few inches during the winter months. Just a slight elevation can make a difference in the temperature. Make sure the bed is soft and cozy for comfort and support.

Just as with us senior humans, older dogs do not navigate icy and frozen walkways as easily as pups. Be sure when your dog goes out, walk areas are ice-free and remove any snow drifts or other obstacles from the paths.

If your senior pet seems to experiencing discomfort during the cold months, it's a good time for a visit to the veterinarian. Your vet may offer suggestion on dietary supplements that can help with the discomfort. As always, ask the vet first.

Read also: Dylan's First Snow

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