Prepare Your Pet for the Winter Weather

Dog and cat in the snow

Winter weather is a way of life in Wisconsin. We’re all pulling out our winter gear to bundle up before facing the familiar winter elements. But what about our pets? How do they get ready for winter weather?

If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pets. Take these extra precautions for your furry friends to keep them comfortable and safe this winter.

Winter Wellness

Has your pet had his/her wellness exam yet? Cold weather may worsen some medical conditions, such as arthritis. Your pet should have a wellness exam at least once a year, and it’s as good a time as any to make sure your pet is as healthy as possible to handle the cold weather.

Food is an important part of winter wellness. Keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout the winter months. Talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s nutritional needs during cold weather.

Know Your Pet’s Limits

Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance levels vary. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather and adjust accordingly.

Watch for these clues that your dog is cold:

  • Shivering
  • Whimpering or whining
  • Heading back towards home or seeking shelter

If your dog has a short coat or seems particularly bothered by cold, consider a sweater or dog coat. When it’s extremely cold outside, you’ll probably need to shorten walks with your dog.

Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Worst case, the sudden twisting motion that occurs when a dog slips on a slippery surface can result in a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).

“Sudden lameness in a rear leg is often the first sign of an ACL injury,” says Dr. Kevin Kreier, who regularly performs cruciate ligament surgeries at Badger Veterinary Hospital-Janesville.

“ACL tears are very painful and problematic,” continues Dr. Kreier. “If you’re noticing signs of pain or lameness, it’s best to have your vet perform an orthopedic exam immediately.”

Stay Home and Stay Inside

Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. Fur alone is not enough to protect pets from the cold. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. And if an animal’s coat gets wet, the fur loses much of its insulating ability.

Most people know that hot cars are a danger to pets, but cold cars pose significant risks to your pet’s health as well. Your car rapidly cools down in cold weather, making it like a refrigerator. Limit car travel with your pets to necessary trips only, and never leave your pet unattended in the vehicle.

What about outdoor cats? Ideally, your outdoor cats can be transitioned to living indoors during the cold winter months. However, some cats may only feel safe outside.

Outdoor cats should have a warm, dry shelter. Check bedding regularly to make sure it’s clean and dry. Also, ensure your outdoor cats have fresh water. Consider using a birdbath heater in the water to prevent it from freezing.

Check and Wipe Their Paws

Your pet’s toes, nose, and ears are most vulnerable to chilly temps. Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. You might consider booties to protect your dog’s feet. If you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly -- snug, but not too tight.

During walks, your dog’s feet, legs, and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, and other toxic chemicals. When you get home, wipe down your pet’s feet, legs, and belly to remove the chemical residue and reduce the risk that your pet will be poisoned after licking his or her feet or fur. As for your own sidewalk and driveway, use pet-safe deicers to protect your pets and others in the neighborhood.

Be Prepared

With the cold comes the risk of severe winter weather, blizzards, and power outages. Winter snow also makes it difficult for lost pets to find their way home. Be prepared for these emergencies:

  • Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s risks in cold weather
  • Have an emergency kit that includes your pet’s needs in case of severe weather or prolonged power outage
  • Make sure your pet has a well-fitting collar and a microchip, and keep your information and registration up to date on both
  • Have enough food, water, and medicine (including any prescription medications as well as heartworm and flea/tick preventatives) on hand to get through at least 5 days

Worried about going out in the cold to pick up your pet’s medications and food? Use Badger Veterinary Hospital’s Online Pharmacy! You can get your veterinarian-authorized prescriptions and Royal Canin diets delivered directly to your home. Get started today!