“Winter is certainly the most hazardous time for pets,” said Katherine Simkins, a dog behavioral therapist and trainer with Bark Busters of Reno. “It’s so important to make sure pets are safe.”
If pets are going to stay outside in the winter, Simkins said, one of the most important things a pet owner can do is give the pet shelter from the cold weather. Houses for pets should be raised several inches off the ground and, ideally, face away from harsh weather. If the house faces weather, put a flap over the door.
“Don’t use blankets, which get wet from snow and will chill your dog,” Simkins said. “Place straw or cedar shavings on the floor and change the bedding often to keep it dry.”
While it is tempting to bring a pet into the house, bringing a pet from extreme cold to extreme heat can have its pitfalls, too, according to an article from the Washington State University veterinary school’s website.
“Creating an abrupt temperature contrast can increase the risk of some infectious diseases,” the article said. “Consider housing them in the shelter of a well-built doghouse or bringing them into a tool shed or garage.”
While Simkins said most pets fare well in the cold weather, older, arthritic pets should not be left outdoors under any circumstances. For toileting, older pets should always be escorted outside. Older dogs should be put on a leash if there is ice or snow in the yard since they can easily slip and get hurt.
If dogs are active they burn more calories in the cold weather and need about 10 percent more food to compensate. Dogs that are less active in the winter should be taken for walks or given playtime and their food consumption should be decreased to prevent weight gain.
Pet owners should be sure that outdoor water bowls do not freeze over and prevent pets from hydration, Simkins said.
“Use a plastic water bowl to ensure the dog’s tongue doesn’t get stuck to cold metal and change the water often to keep it from freezing,” Simkins said. “Consider using a heated water bowl.”
Heated water bowls keep the water from turning to ice, but keep the water cool enough to drink for pets.
Simkins also said pets that live outside or play on ice or hard, frozen dirt should always be checked for injuries and frostbite, which can cause serious damage to sensitive areas like ears, paws and tails.
Simkins said it is certainly better for pets to be in a garage than be left outside in the winter, but bedding should still be elevated off cement floors. Heaters should have a safety shut off in case it is tipped over by accident, she said.
One thing that pet owners particularly don’t think about is their pet ingesting harmful chemicals, like ice melt and antifreeze, used to ease the harsh winter conditions. Simkins said this is one of the biggest hazards for outdoor pets in the winter.
“Antifreeze is one of the biggest hazards in the winter because it has a very sweet taste and can cause sickness or death,” Simkins said. “Be sure all antifreeze containers are well out of reach of dogs and thoroughly clean any spills immediately.”
On its website, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests that owners thoroughly wipe off their dog’s legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. The animal can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws, and his paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.
According to barkbusters.com, most dogs are safe in temperatures as low as 20 degrees but puppies, smaller dogs and older dogs should not be left outside when the temperature is below 40 degrees. Shorthaired dogs can become chilled immediately in cold weather and should have a sweater on before leaving indoors.
The website also says that if dogs are shivering, lethargic, have a low heart rate or are unresponsive should be taken into a warm place and covered with a light blanket in case of hypothermia.
When it comes to felines, several organizations warned people to watch out for cats escaping the cold by sleeping in car engines. The ASPCA recommends banging loudly on the car hood before starting it, giving the cat a chance to escape before it gets caught in the fan belt.
Other conditions depend on the age, size and breed of the animal. For more information on how to keep your pet happy during the cold months, visit www.barkbusters.com or call Katherine Simkins at 378-2457.