Tips for helping your pet survive a cold winter
by Elsie Hodnett
As the holidays near, it’s important to remember winter tips to ensure your pets also have a happy holiday.

“During the bustle and excitement of the Christmas season, we sometimes allot less time for our four-legged family members,” Pell City animal control officer Rose Ogden said.

She said when taking an inside pet outdoors for a bathroom break, stay out with them.

“If you are cold enough to go inside, it is probably too cold for your pet to stay out much longer as well,” she said.

Ogden said for outdoor pets, adequate shelter is a must.

“Make certain your pet’s shelter is clean, dry and well-insulated with straw, wood shavings or a blanket,” she said. “Pets carry a lot of moisture onto their bedding after each trip outside in wet weather. Plan on changing the bedding as frequently as necessary.”

Ogden said owners can place their pet’s blanket or pad in the dryer for a quick warm-up.

“It’s an easy way to ensure your pet is comfortable,” she said. “Equally critical, position the opening of the shelter away from the direction that rain and wind usually comes. I also recommend using a flap to cover the opening.”

Ogden said pet taxis or carriers with vents on the side are not suitable substitutes for an insulated shelter.

“Providing a pet taxi or carrier with side vents is a common mistake made by some pet owners,” she said. “You want to make sure that your shelter is enclosed and large enough for your pet to move around comfortably, but small enough that your pet’s body heat will keep it warm enough. A large shed, although enclosed, does not provide your pet with adequate shelter.”

Ogden said pets that spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities may need an increase in their food supply to keep them and their fur in tip-top shape.

“Keep an eye on your pet’s outside water,” she said. “If it is not heated, it will need to be changed several times a day when temperatures dip below freezing. A frozen water bowl is never a substitute for clean, fresh water.”

Ogden said pet stores sell heated bowls, which can prevent water from freezing.

“You may also want to allow extra time before leaving for work or school to check and replace the water, if needed,” she said.

Ogden said just as humans dress for warmth when going outdoors in cold weather, some short-coated breeds like Boston terriers, Chihuahuas and even pit bulls can benefit from a protective sweater.

“Short-coated breeds will become chilled quickly after leaving a 72-degree house to walk on cold or icy ground,” she said. “It’s also important to remember that sweaters are not a substitute for shelter. The sweaters can get wet and actually remove more heat from an animal than they conserve.”

Ogden said puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter.

“If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train him/her inside,” she said. “If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him/her outdoors only to relieve himself/herself.”

Ogden said outdoor cats will seek warmth, and sometimes this includes near or on a car engine.

“This means that if they don’t move when you go out to start the engine the next time, they can be seriously injured or killed,” she said. “Before starting the engine, knock on the hood a couple times to chase them from beneath the hood.”

Ogden said never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather.

“A car can act like a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to become very uncomfortable,” she said.

Ogden said be careful with car maintenance as well, because antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats.

“Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol,” she said.

Ogden said giving a pet as a surprise Christmas gift is not a good idea.

“Instead, you could create a gift basket full of pet supplies and treats and design a gift certificate for a ‘pet of your choice’ to be redeemed once the holiday commotion is over,” she said. “Pets are a long-term commitment and there are always other alternatives, such as a surprise trip to the zoo or aquarium instead.”

© 2012