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Baby, it’s cold outside: Winter care for your pets

Like it or not, cold winter weather is on its way to central PA.

I know I’m not quite ready for it, but it’s no surprise that December brings lots of snow, wind and ice to our area.

While you’re digging out your warm winter hats, gloves and scarves from last year, have you thought about how to keep your pets warm and comfortable this winter?

If you’re a dog owner, you and your dog have to venture outdoors for potty time or for a little much-needed exercise to burn off the crazies from spending more time in the house.

Heavy-coated breeds like huskies, malamutes, chows, etc., are well-suited for colder temperatures. But older dogs or smooth-coated breeds begin to shiver after just a few minutes outside.

My miniature dachshund wouldn’t dream of venturing outside without her polar fleece when the temperatures drop below 40 degrees!

By adding a warm sweater or coat to their wardrobe, you’ll prevent dangerous hypothermia, and your dog will stay warm and dry.

Daily walks in winter present safety challenges to both dog AND dog-walker.

The salt and ice-melt pellets used to keep us humans from falling on icy sidewalks have a tendency to burn a dog’s sensitive paws, especially in between their toes.

Although there are several pet-safe ice-melt products on the market, undoubtedly you’ll encounter some property owners on your walk who use products that are not. One way to protect your dog’s sensitive pads: massage some petroleum jelly into your dog’s paws before you walk.

Booties (if your dog will tolerate them) offer even more protection. When you get back home, be sure to wipe their paws, including in between their paws, to prevent them from licking off any residue and becoming sick. That’s also the perfect time to check for packed snow and ice in between their toes or cracked or bleeding pads.

Antifreeze is another common winter hazard that can have deadly consequences for both dogs and cats. Its sweet taste is irresistible to animals.

But if your pet licks even small amounts from your garage floor or underneath your car if it’s parked outside (a favorite hangout for indoor/outdoor cats or free-roaming strays), it can cause a serious illness or death. If you suspect that your pet has come in contact with antifreeze, contact your veterinarian immediately for care. And make sure you store unused antifreeze in a secure location where your pets can’t find it.

Pets depend on us to keep them warm, dry and well fed. This is especially important when the temperatures take a nosedive and winter sets in for the long haul. Hypothermia is a serious risk for pets who live outside, or who are left in unheated cars or buildings for long periods of time. Ideally, all pets should live indoors, but if you do have dogs or cats who are outdoor dwellers, offer them indoor shelter in sub-zero temperatures. Outdoors, provide them with a dry, draft-free shelter with straw or cedar shavings as bedding. Avoid using quilts or blankets that can become saturated and freeze. Face their shelter away from the prevailing wind and cover the opening with a waterproof flap to help them conserve body heat. Staying warm in winter burns more calories, so be sure to add a little extrafood to their bowl in cold temperatures.

Spring might be “just around the corner,” but in the meantime, keep your best friends toasty warm when winter winds are howling.

Unless you absolutely must transport your pet during the cold winter months, leave them at home where they can stay warm and dry.

A rule of thumb: if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pets.

Sue Williams is a lifelong pet enthusiast. She has been actively involved in animal rescue, dog performance sports, responsible pet ownership and animal advocacy for more than 20 years. She can be contacted at altoonapets@gmail.com.

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