Prepare pets properly for cold temperatures

Brrr. The recent cold weather makes me want to stay inside, and my dog isn’t in any hurry to go outdoors, either. If you have animals that go outside or live outside, you’re conscious of how important it is to prepare them for the cold weather. I wrote a column a few weeks ago covering the basics of preparing a pet for the cold, but now that it has reached that point, don’t forget the following:

Make sure water is drinkable. Check that an outdoor animal’s water source is clean and not frozen at least three times a day.

Heated bowls are one good idea – they cost between $25 and $40, but they can give you peace of mind that your pet always has a water source. For larger animals, immersion heaters can be purchased for about $50.

Be sure to check frequently for any problems when you first begin using heaters. You don’t want to make the water too hot, and you don’t want to create any potential electrical hazards for your animal. Look for safety features like a shield around the heating unit so your pet can’t get burned, aluminum tubing around the cord so your pet can’t chew through it and a heater that shuts off automatically if the dish or bucket is dry.

Invest in lots of straw or hay. Both are inexpensive and make great bedding for your pets. Unlike blankets or towels that can freeze if they get wet, straw doesn’t absorb a lot of liquid and freeze. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be checked and changed on a regular basis. You can put used straw on a compost pile or, if it doesn’t contain excrement, you can put it into your yard cart to be recycled.

A blanket is still great as an addition to the hay or straw, but check it regularly for moisture. Pop it in the dryer to get it warm and dry for your pet.

Another great use of hay or straw is as a cover for the muddy areas in your yard. It will keep your pets’ feet cleaner and drier when it goes outside, and can be easily composted in the spring.

Make a cozy place indoors if the weather gets too cold. This can be in a garage if it can?t actually be in your house, but please do have a back up plan when the weather gets nasty. We’ve been lucky to have our recent cold snap free of heavy winds or freezing rain and snow, but add those things into the mix and being outdoors simply isn’t safe for your pet. Even dogs with heavy coats like huskies and malamutes need an indoor area when the temperature is in the teens and twenties.

You should be able to bring a pet indoors at night and allow it to be outdoors during the day without problems. However, some veterinary experts have concerns about the ability of the animal’s body to handle a constant adjustment from warm to cold. Talk to your vet about the best option for your dog. If you’re concerned, either bring in your pet until the cold spell ends, or make sure it has a garage or sturdy outbuilding in which to rest. Such a building should be completely closed off to the elements if possible – either put your pet inside or install a pet door so it can go in and out. Doghouses with openings or lean-tos don?t keep out the wind.

Watch your pet when you take it for walks or bathroom breaks. Go outside with your pet and when it gets too cold for you to stay out any longer, it’s also too cold for your pet. Some dog breeds may benefit from a sweater or coat that fits well, but make sure it doesn’t get wet. A wet sweater may actually conserve less body heat than if it was not used at all.

Keep older, skittish or unsteady pets close by and try to find areas where they don?t have to move around on the ice. A slip or fall can result in broken bones or injured backs.

Be cautious about cars and pets. Cats may seek the warmth of a car’s engine. Please get in the habit of banging on your car hood just before you climb inside. Every year cats are killed and injured when cars start up. Even if you’re not the type to get all emotional about the neighbor’s pets, it’s no fun to knock at the house next door to tell them about their cat.

And antifreeze continues to be a killer of all animals (and, tragically, can be dangerous to small children, too). Two ounces can kill a medium-sized dog, and half of an ounce can be toxic for a cat – that’s just a couple of licks.

Look for propylene-glycol-based antifreeze for your own car, which is much less toxic than the traditional ethylene glycol in most brands of antifreeze. Examples of brands made with propylene glycol include Sierra, Sta-Clean and Prestone LowTox®.

Speaking of antifreeze, did you know that decorative snow globes contain it? Keep pets and kids away if one breaks until you can get the mess completely cleaned up.

The weather outside may be frightful, but it doesn’t have to cause your pets harm or even misery. Just make sure they have a dry place to curl up without drafts, lots of good bedding, a constant source of water, and a lot of love and attention to their needs.