One of the many benefits to living in Alabama is mild winter weather. We generally don’t have to worry about the frigid conditions our northern neighbors experience on a regular basis. We’re blessed in that we can experience the outdoors in relative comfort year round, which also includes getting out with our beloved furry family members.
Like humans, though, our pets can suffer when the weather gets chilly. Even with an extra fur coat, many animals still have issues when exposed to temperatures lower than 40°F for long periods of time. Luckily, we don’t have to deal with low temperatures often, but when the occasional winter cold snap rolls through, here are some tips to keep your furry friends safe.
Provide Shelter 24/7 & Bedding
This one isn’t necessarily winter-dependent – all pets should have a safe place to go year-round. But in the cooler months, it is important for your animals to have a safe place to get out of the elements.
For outdoor dogs, an enclosed shelter should be provided. It should be large enough for the dog to stand comfortably and turn around. To keep the shelter extra warm and dry, it should be raised at least a few inches off the ground, and adding a dog bed or some sort of bedding material is very helpful, especially on those chilly nights.
Outdoor cats shouldn’t be left to roam if the weather is going to get cold. If bringing them inside the house isn’t an option due to other pets or allergies, at least provide shelter and bedding materials in a garage or barn. That way your outdoor cats can get out of bad weather and stay safe.
Horses and other outdoor animals should have at minimum a three-sided cover where they can get out of wind and rain. Again, bedding materials can be provided for extra warmth.
Don’t forget your indoor pets as well – if you’re inside and chilly, it’s likely they feel the same way. This goes double for any animal with very short hair. Provide a pet bed or a special blanket in an area free of drafts where they can get comfortable and away from the cold.
Consider a Sweater
For cats and dogs with very short or no hair, winter can be an unpleasant time. They get cold just like we do, but unlike us they can’t just put on a coat. We have to pay attention to the temperature for them and provide protection when appropriate.
If you have a shorthaired dog, consider getting a dog sweater or jacket. They may seem a little ridiculous, but they provide extra protection whenever they are exposed to the elements. We usually think of tiny dogs needing winter sweaters, but even larger shorthaired breeds may need protection.
Unless your cat is especially docile, chances are they won’t be happy with a sweater. In the case of shorthaired or no-haired cats, providing an abundance of bedding is usually enough to keep them comfortable when it is really cold outside.
Be Careful of De-Icing Chemicals
While it’s not especially common to have de-icing substances used in our area, it’s important to pay attention to your pets when they are used. For dogs especially, salt, sand, and de-icing chemicals can irritate their paws and cause pain. If you know these chemicals are in use in your area, either keep your dog away from the roads or sidewalks in question or consider a pair of dog booties. Dog booties have the benefit of also protecting their paws from rare snow and ice, which allows them to play a little more freely in the event of an unexpected snowstorm.
De-icing chemicals can also be toxic to your dog. After a walk, make sure to wipe down their paws to get any residue off. If left untreated your dog may lick the salt or other chemicals off, making them sick.
Feed A Little Extra for Outdoor Animals
For animals that stay outside 24/7, cold weather can be tough on their metabolism. They’re burning more energy to stay warm. When the temperatures drop, it is time to feed these pets a little extra food at every meal, so that they can stay both warm and full at the same time.
Pay Attention To Senior Pets
Just like older adults, older pets can suffer from arthritis pains and aches when the weather gets cold and damp. Don’t ignore symptoms of pain in your older pet – if they seem uncomfortable, give the vet a call and see what pain relievers are available to help with arthritis pain. Providing a heating pad along with bedding can also help to soothe achy joints.
Keep Antifreeze Out of Reach
This one is especially important! Antifreeze may be helpful in the winter months, but it is extremely toxic to animals. Unfortunately, antifreeze has a sweet taste, which makes it an attractive treat to pets that find a spill or an open bottle.
If you have antifreeze around the house, make sure it is stored out of reach in tightly closed containers. If a spill occurs, clean it up fast to make sure your pets don’t have a chance to get at this toxic chemical.
Never Leave A Pet In The Car
This one should go without saying, but never, ever leave your pet alone in a cold car. Much as heat can be amplified in a hot car during the summer, your car has a tendency to turn into a refrigerator in winter. It may be tempting to leave them for “just a minute” – don’t do it. If it wouldn’t be comfortable for you to sit in an unheated car without any winter clothing, it will be extremely uncomfortable (and potentially life threatening) for your pet.
Use Caution When Starting Your Car
Do you park your car outside? Do you have cats with access to your garage? In either scenario, you should be careful when you start your car first thing in the morning. When the temperatures drop, cats sometimes like to climb up into a car’s engine due to the warmth. They find a place to curl up and sleep, but can get a life-threatening wake up call if the engine turns on unexpectedly.
If you know there are cats around, just give the hood a few good bangs before you start your car. The noise is usually enough to scare the cat out of the engine, making it safe for you to start the car and get on with your day.