Cool Weather Cautions



Fall is my favorite season, and I think it’s my pets’ favorite, too. They all seem to perk up as the evenings get cooler and the days seem to gently warn of the colder days to come. I love walking the dogs as the leaves are turning along the river near our home, watching my little pack as they lift their noses to track the changes in the air.


But even as I’m enjoying the crispness and beauty of fall, I’m aware that it means winter is around the corner, and with it, the seasonal challenges for our pets.


As the days get shorter in the fall, dog walkers may be out in lower light than they were a few weeks earlier, making them less visible to vehicles. The danger is higher if your dog is a dark color, you wear dark clothes or you walk on a road without sidewalks. Take a page from the bicyclist’s book: Being seen is being safe. Check out reflective vests (for you and your dog), reflective leashes and collars, or other safety gear.


The change in weather is more critical to outdoor pets. While I am not keen on the concept of outdoor pets — these pets are often lonely and bored, and are often neighborhood nuisances as well — I realize that people make their own decisions for many different reasons, and most do the best they can.


If you have outdoor pets whom you cannot bring inside, the time to review your pet’s shelter is now.


Animals must be able to get out of the elements. A pet must have a well-insulated structure just large enough so that he can curl up inside to maintain body heat. The structure should also have a wind-block to protect it from wintry blasts. In the coldest parts of the country, it should also have some sort of outdoor-rated pet heating pad or other device. And be sure that there’s always a supply of fresh, unfrozen water by using a heated bowl.


Final cold weather caution for outdoor animals: Remember to thump on your car’s hood on cold mornings. Your neighbor’s cat may be nestled against the engine for warmth, and thumping your car’s hood will get the animal to skedaddle to safety.


Indoor pets don’t face the challenges outdoor pets do, but winter can be uncomfortable for them as well. For pets with arthritis, cold weather can be more painful, so ask your veterinarian about supplements or prescription medications that may help your pet feel better. A soft, heated bed may be much appreciated, too, especially by older pets. And remember that one of the best things you can do for a pet with joint problems is to keep the extra weight off: A pet who’s more sedentary in winter needs to eat less.


Every year, I get questions about sweaters for pets: Are they helpful or just plain silly? Some animals really can use the extra insulation of a well-fitted sweater: older pets and dogs who are tiny (such as Chihuahuas), or are shorthaired and naturally lean (such as greyhounds or whippets). Overcoats can save you time drying your dog if you walk in inclement weather, especially if your pets are longhaired. And don’t forget to wipe your pets’ feet, legs and bellies after they’ve been outside to keep them from ingesting any de-icing solutions.


Because heating systems can dry out the air, you and your pets may be more comfortable if you introduce some humidity. Birds, especially those species originating in tropical climates, will enjoy extra opportunities for bathing or being misted.


Cold-weather pet care is a matter of compassion and common sense. Use both in equal measure, and your pet will get through the worst of the season in fine shape.


Categories: Blog | Cat care | Dog care

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