Cold weather brings with it special challenges for pets and pet owners. One of the most common questions I hear in my veterinary practice, when the temperatures get start to get colder, is “How long can I leave my dog or cat outdoors?” So, let’s talk about that as well as some of the other dangers encountered as a result of cold weather.
Let me say first, in the case of pet cats, I recommend that they remain indoors. Especially in cold or severe weather, there is really no good reason your cat needs to go outdoors. Community cats that live outdoors are a different matter. In those cases, their caretakers must see to their needs. And, of course, most dogs need to go outdoors at least long enough to relieve themselves.
- Although some pets are conditioned to cold weather, veterinary experts agree that you should bring outdoor pets indoors when the temperature drops. In general, most pets should be brought in if the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, puppies, kittens, and short haired pets should come inside anytime the temperature goes below 40 degrees. Remember, if it’s cold outside for you, it’s cold for your pet too. It’s better to err on the side of caution and bring your pet in sooner rather than later.
- How long can a dog stay outside before coming back inside? That’s a question that will vary from one dog to another and there are many factors. Watch your pet carefully while outside for signs of distress, such as shivering, lifting the feet, whining, etc. While active, many dogs will keep themselves relatively warm even in cold temperatures. However, when not active, the story is different.
- For pets with long hair, proper grooming is essential to help them maintain a layer of warming air within their coat. Pets who are heavily matted cannot keep themselves as warm.
- If your pet must stay outdoors (something I do not recommend, particularly for those pets that are not acclimated to outdoor living!), be sure to provide adequate shelter for your pet. A good “house” will have three enclosed sides, will be elevated off the ground, and will contain generous amounts of bedding such as straw or hay. In cold weather, bigger is not always better. A house just big enough for your pet will warm up faster and retain heat better than something that is too big. Don’t forget to dig out your pet’s “house” if snow accumulates in front of the entrance to the “house”.
- Your pet will need access to fresh water that isn’t frozen. Use heated water bowls and replenish them frequently.
- Antifreeze is a common and deadly pet poisoning during colder months. If you suspect your pet has consumed any antifreeze at all, you must contact your veterinarian immediately! Antifreeze has a sweet taste to pets, so they will readily lap up any spilled material. If you spill antifreeze, dilute the area well with water and sweep excess water into a rocky or sandy area. Cover area with soil to keep pets from licking at the rocks.
- Cats love to warm up underneath car hoods. If your car is kept outdoors, or if cats have access to your garage, be sure to pound on the hood of the car prior to starting it. Many cats are killed or injured grievously by fan belts and moving engine parts.
- During cold winter months, pets can come into close contact with a variety of ice melting compounds during walks and even in their owner’s driveway. Some of these products can make your pet sick if ingested or allowed to contact skin for long periods. When ice melting products are used, it’s a good idea to wipe down your pet’s feet after returning inside. This will lessen the amount of salt he carries in with him. If your pet has a large amount of any ice-melting product on his fur (from rolling or walking through it), bathe the pet and monitor for skin irritations.
- Pets should not be left alone in vehicles due to the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning or hypothermia.
- Our pets suffer from frostbite and hypothermia just like we do. Consider keeping dogs on a leash when they go outside. Many curious dogs off leash will explore “frozen” retention ponds, lakes or streams and fall through the ice into frigid water.
- Older pets may suffer more from arthritis during these months. Ask your veterinarian about ways to help keep your senior pet comfortable during the winter.
- Monitor all pets around wood-burning stoves, fireplaces and space heaters. These can cause severe burns!
- This is a great time of year to see your veterinarian about a “winter check up” for your pet. Their advice and expertise can help keep your pet safe and warm!