With February upon us, temperatures are dropping making the outdoors less pleasant than usual- not just for us, but for our furry friends as well. While many of our pets love being outside, it can be hard to determine how cold is too cold for them to withstand. Many people assume that since dogs and cats have fur they are comfortable outside in the winter. While this may be true on more mild days, pets should be brought indoors when temperatures drop. Like humans, pets are susceptible to frostbite, hypothermia and other cold-related illnesses. Pets require yearly veterinary visits, so why not schedule one now to make sure your pet is in their peak health to deal with the winter elements.
Different animals have different tolerances to cold weather. This can vary greatly based on coat thickness, body fat and overall health. For example, elderly pets, extremely young pets and those with chronic health conditions will be more sensitive to harsh elements compared to those who are in peak health. Some breeds of cats and dogs have higher tolerance to the cold such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest Cats. However, this doesn’t mean that they can tolerate freezing temperatures indefinitely. Even pets with thick coats will need relatively frequent breaks from the cold. Additionally, pets with shorter legs who sit lower to the ground may have a lower cold tolerance because their body core is closer to the cold ground.
Keeping Your Dog Warm
Even in the cold, dogs will require walks. To keep them healthy and comfortable, consider investing in a doggie sweater or booties for outdoor adventures. On especially cold days, take shorter, more frequent walks rather than a few long walks per day to cut down exposure. After a walk, wipe down your pup’s paws with a warm rag to remove any salt or chemicals that may have been on the road or sidewalk. Also be sure to dry off your dog if they get snow or rain on their coat. Additionally, avoid shaving your pet’s fur down to the skin in the winter- longer fur will help keep your pet warm when they go outdoors. Dry, itchy skin can also be an issue for pets who frequently transition between the indoors and outdoors so to prevent discomfort, keep a humidifier running near your pet’s favorite place in the house and avoid frequent bathing as this can remove essential, moisturizing oils from your pet’s fur. When indoors, pups will need time to warm up. Provide a comfortable place for sleep such as a warm bed or pillow that is away from any drafts.
If your pet seems to be moving slowly, acting anxious, shivering, whining or searching for warm places to burrow, bring them inside immediately as these can be signs of the onset of hypothermia.
Animals that Remain Outdoors
Can’t keep your pet indoors with you all the time? Build them a safe and warm enclosure to protect them from the harsh winter elements. This should include insulation, plenty of blankets and sufficient food and water (make sure the water doesn’t freeze!). Animals will require extra food in the winter since the cold makes them burn calories more quickly.
If you’re a kind soul worried about feral cats or other critters in the winter, you can easily and inexpensively build a small shelter from a large plastic bin and a large styrofoam cooler. Simply cut a cat-sized hole into the sides of both the cooler and plastic bin, place the cooler into the bin, surround the open space between the cooler and bin with hay or another insulating material, and line the inside of the cooler with blankets or hay. Face the opening of the shelter towards your house or another structure that will block wind and rain/snow. Feral kitties will appreciate your compassion.
In cold climates, outdoor animals will seek shelter from the elements in many seemingly strange places. Before you start your car, check under your wheel wells for stray cats or other creatures that may have sought shelter from the elements in your vehicle.
Remember- if it’s too cold for you, it’s likely too cold for your pet. If you’re unsure about your furry friend’s comfort, consult your vet for an