Written & discussed by Dr. Ramiz Mondal,
Veterinary Physician & Nutritionist
( BVSc. & AH; MVSc in Animal Nutrition )
Winter is just around the corner. Here are a few tips that can keep your furry friends safe, healthy and warm.
We shouldn’t ignore the moral responsibility to keep our four legged creatures alive, safe and comfortable in the ecosystem. We, humans, know how to take care of ourselves in the cold weather. We stay warm with appropriate clothing, moisturize our skin, and drink warm fluids. But what about our pets? Pets have special requirements too during the cold.
Winter in India ranges from the pleasantly cold to the very extremes, and both you and your pets need just as much care when the mercury drops! If you thought that furry coat was enough to keep them warm, you’d join many pet parents who make the same mistake. When it comes to the cold, dogs and cats are just as susceptible to discomfort and harm as they are in the heat. Meaning, Winter care tips are a must-follow when ensuring your cats and pups remain comfortable. Exposure to winter’s dry, cold air and chilly rain can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin, but these aren’t the only discomforts pets can suffer.
Caring for your pet in the winter is a multi-pronged effort that will require some thought and preparation. Here are few important things you can do to make this your pet’s best winter ever.
- Repeatedly coming out of the cold into the dry heat of your home can cause itchy, flaking skin. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as he comes inside, paying special attention to his feet and in-between the toes. Remove any snow balls from between his foot pads.
- Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. If your dog is long-haired, simply trim him to minimize the clinging ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals that can dry his skin, and don’t neglect the hair between his toes. If your dog is short-haired, consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
- Bring a towel on long walks to clean off stinging, irritated paws. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove foreign body —and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes.
- Bathe your pets as little as possible during cold spells. Washing too often can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin. Always use proper pet shampoo for cleaning purpose.
- Massaging petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents.
- Pets burn extra energy by trying to stay warm in wintertime. Feeding your pet a little bit more during the cold weather months can provide much-needed calories, and making sure she has plenty of water to drink will help keep her well-hydrated and her skin less dry.
- Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.
- Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside. If left outdoors, pets become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed.
Adjust Daily Calories for Changes in Activity
Their diet should be precisely calibrated to give them all the vitamins, minerals, and calories they need to thrive. But when their activity level changes drastically, as it can in the winter, adjustments need to be made to ensure adequate nutrition. Consult your vet for the best available food requirements and feeding management guidelines.
Block Off Heat Sources
Dogs, and especially cats, may seek out sources of heat in your house as nice places to cuddle up or take a quick nap. “Cats may try to curl up next to a radiator or jump up on a wood-burning stove”. Pet owners should make these places inaccessible to their pets during winter months.
Moisturizer is your best friend during the winter, but your pet doesn’t have the same luxury. Baths tend to dry out their skin the same way it does yours. While it’s not the most serious of problems, dry skin can cause an animal some discomfort. it’s not advisable to cut out baths altogether from December to March—not only for the obvious (smelly) reasons, but also because some animals have allergies and require regular baths.
Take Your Pet to the Vet for a Mid-Season Health Check
One of the most common examples includes arthritis. While Winter may have never been an issue before, it can cause discomfort after age and arthritis have set their pace.
An indication might be reluctant to stand or move as the cold sets in.
Change the Drinking Water Regularly
Sometimes, the water bowl can become cold very quickly and, just like us, it can be unpleasant to drink ice-cold water when we’re already feeling frosty. So, dogs and cats will tend to drink less and experience dehydration.
To combat this little Wintery side-effect, our top pet care tips include changing the water bowl with room-temperature water every 2-3 hours to make sure it stays palatable for our pooches.
Make Sure Their Coat is Very Dry Before Walking
Even when it’s Winter, our pets can do with a bath, in which case you always need to ensure your pet is fully dry before venturing out into the cold for their exercise and toilet time.
But, while their long coats might take a while to dry, it’s important to also refrain from trimming their fur during these cold months as they provide key insulation!
OPTIONS FOR INDOOR EXERCISE INCLUDE:
- Playing hide and seek
- Laying short-range fetch
- Set-up a small obstacle course
- Get a manual rotating treadmill for pets
- Race up and down the stairs
- Play a tug-of-war
One thing to note, even when your own pup and kitten are safe and cosy indoors if you head out you should check under the hood of your car to ensure there are no stray animals sheltering that could get hurt when you start the engine.
Remove Any Room Heating Fans You Have
While they may be perfect for keeping a room warm at short notice and directing it onto our feet they can be very dangerous to indoor family pets. Simply because the warmth is so alluring in the Winter, animals will often curl-up in front of the heat and accidentally burn themselves. This can result in a skin rash, dry skin, itchiness, blisters, missing hair and red skin. All of which will require topical treatments and a cold compress which your cats and dogs will not be too happy with.
Don’t over-bathe your pet, dry bath instead
Bathing your pet in winters can be difficult and also, can make them fall sick. To avoid that from happening, use a dry shampoo to give a dry bath to your pet. It’s hassle-free and super fast!
Remove the clothing once a day and brush their coat
This step ensures that the fur doesn’t get matted under the coat, and also give their skin some time to breathe.
If you’re living in a region where there’s sunlight in winters, try to do this step in the sunlight so that existing germs are likely to get killed by the sun.
By taking a few extra steps to protect your pet’s skin in the winter, you can help keep them healthy and happy throughout the season.
1. Keep your pet groomed: Regular grooming can help keep your pet’s skin and coat healthy and prevent dry, flaky skin. Use a brush or comb that is appropriate for your pet’s coat type and be sure to brush in the direction of hair growth.
2. Keep your pet hydrated: Dehydration can lead to dry, itchy skin, so make sure your pet has access to clean, fresh water at all times. You may need to increase the amount of water your pet drinks during the winter months, as the dry indoor air can contribute to dehydration.
3. Use a humidifier: Dry indoor air can also dry out your pet’s skin. Using a humidifier can help add moisture to the air and keep your pet’s skin hydrated.
4. Avoid hot baths: Hot water can strip your pet’s skin of its natural oils, leading to dry, itchy skin. Use lukewarm water instead and avoid using shampoo too frequently. If your pet needs a bath, use a moisturizing shampoo or conditioner to help soothe and hydrate their skin.
5. Consult your veterinarian: If you notice that your pet’s skin is excessively dry or itchy, or if they have any skin problems that persist despite your efforts to keep their skin healthy, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian. They can help diagnose any underlying skin conditions and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Get to know the temperature your pets can handle
Just like humans, you need to understand your pet’s tolerance based on several factors including their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. While long haired or thick coated pets are usually more cold-resistant, short-haired or those with shorter legs feel colder because of the increased exposure. So, make sure your pet is wearing a suitable covering or coat made for them, and check on them regularly.
Grooming your pets is usually a basic thing that should already be done periodically, but during winters, it becomes even more necessary to take care of their fur and skin. A good brushing session can help clear up anything stuck, and help provide better insulation to your four-legged friend. If you take your dogs outside to play, you need to properly clean or bathe them, and dry them, when you bring them inside.
Under no circumstances should pet cats be left outdoors, even if they roam outside during other seasons. Dogs are happiest when taken out frequently for walks and exercise, but kept inside the rest of the time. Don’t leave pets outdoors when the temperature drops.
No matter what the temperature is, wind chill can threaten a pet’s life. Exposed skin on noses, ears and paw pads are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia during extreme cold snaps. For this reason, short-haired dogs often feel more comfortable wearing a sweater—even during short walks.
Rock salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet’s feet. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates their mouth.
Remove common poisons
Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up any antifreeze spills immediately and keep it, like all household chemicals, out of reach. Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic to pets, wildlife and family.
Dogs are at particular risk of salt poisoning in winter due to the rock salt used in many areas—often when licking it from their paws after a walk. Store de-icing salt in a safe place and wipe your dog’s paws, even after short walks. If your dog ingests rock salt, call a veterinarian immediately.
Protect outdoor animals
If there are outdoor cats, either owned pets or community cats in your area, remember that they need protection from the elements as well as food and water. It’s easy to give them a hand.
If you encounter a pet left in the cold, politely let the owner know you’re concerned. Some people genuinely don’t know the risk that cold weather poses to their pets or livestock and will be quick to correct any problems you address.