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Pets and Winter Storms

This week, you can’t open a newspaper, turn on a TV, or flip through your phone without seeing dozens of warnings about the coming winter storm. Weather authorities are predicting dangerously low temperatures (and even lower wind chills), several inches (if not feet in some places) of snow, and generally hazardous conditions for much of the country. We will all be likely to take several extra steps in the next few days to prepare for the incoming inclement weather, but for us pet-owners, the big winter storms pose an even greater risk. Today, we’ll talk about how to keep your pets safe and healthy during severe winter weather.

Before the storm even begins, it’s always a good idea to stock up on any supplies you may not have access to if the roads are impassable or your usual veterinary office is closed. To be safe, stay stocked with a week’s worth of food, cat litter, and any medications that you pet relies on, just as you would for your human family members. Another smart safety tip is to ensure that your pets’ identification tags are up to date and worn at all times, whether your pets are indoor or outdoor dwellers.

The most basic necessity once the storms begin is shelter, whether your animals are large or small and whether they live indoors or outside. All pets, especially those who are very young or old, are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, so even if your pets ordinarily stay outside, be certain to provide adequate shelter to keep them safe. If at all possible, bring all of your pets inside to weather the storm, and if you do keep animals that stay outdoors at all times, such as livestock or other large animals, make sure they have proper shelter, such as an enclosed, insulated area free from snow drifts and forming ice. The ground of the enclosure should be lined with straw or blankets to help provide insulation and protection, and your animals should have enough room to stand, sit, and lie down comfortably.

Keep in mind that if the weather is particularly bad for longer than a few hours, you may need to find alternate arrangements for accommodating indoor exercise and bathroom breaks. Last year, we brought you an article about different ways provide indoor exercise (and entertainment) while your pet is stuck indoors and during a bad weather storm is a perfect time to try out some of these creative solutions. Not only will they provide exercise and bonding time, they’ll also help to keep you busy when it’s unsafe to continue your usual daily routine. Of course, an unfortunate reality of being housebound during a bad storm is finding alternative bathroom options for dogs. If you anticipate an indoor-only situation lasting overnight, you might consider investing in one of several available options on the market these days, like puppy pads or indoor dog potties, to help make the best of a bad situation.

While huddling up inside, be sure to keep pets away from heating sources, such as auxiliary space heaters that aren’t ordinarily in use and may be a source of curiosity. Pets will naturally gravitate toward the heat, especially in a drafty house, but space heaters can burn or singe pets’ skin or fur and certainly aren’t safe for curious noses. If you’ll be using a space heater this season, be sure to shop for those that are specifically approved for use with pets. Pet-safe models often include features such as surfaces that are cool to the touch, blowers without fans that can catch hairs or whiskers, and cords that are much more durable, to help discourage chewing.

If the weather in your part of the world allows for quick outdoor bathroom breaks, make sure you use a de-icer that’s safe for pets, such as a pet-safe salt (if you do salt), consider boots or booties to protect delicate paws from sub-zero temperatures (even if you have a long-haired or other winter-friendly breed), and warm coats or sweaters for those dogs who are short-haired or small. Once your pets come back in (to avoid hypothermia, keep these outdoor breaks as short as possible, even if you have curious snow lovers!), wipe all paws and noses with a warm towel to help accelerate drying and remove any ice, snow, or salt. Warm broth or warm food can help to warm pets up from the inside out, but avoid hot foods and drinks. If you do notice signs of discomfort or pain, such as whining, ginger walking, or the lifting of paws off of the ground, carefully wash the paws with warm water and even consider indoor socks or booties if your pet will tolerate them. This will help to warm the paws gently and gradually, and help to keep them warm while inside.

As always, keep dangerous chemicals like antifreezes and heating oils out of pets’ reach and always use common sense with regard to cold weather safety. Do you have a particular winter weather indoor activity that your pets love and look forward to? Share in the comments below!

Sources: American Red Cross; Montclair Journal; Dickinson County Emergency Management; Suffolk County SPCA


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