By Becca DiFabbio
During the winter months, sometimes all you want to do is curl up under the blankets—and your dog or cat may hop up on the couch to join you. While blankets are usually harmless for pets, there are some key points to consider when they decide to cuddle under the covers.
Blanket Safety for Pets
First of all, common sense is always smart to practice for any situation involving your pet. If your pet looks or acts uncomfortable while using a blanket, either remove the blanket or allow them an escape route. Give your pet the option to easily move and breathe while using a blanket, and assist her when needed if she appears to be tangled or stuck.
As far as ideal blanket materials, most materials used for human blankets are safe for pets. You may choose to purchase specialty blankets marketed specifically for your pet, or you may already have suitable blankets at home. “Our pets probably don’t mind one way or another,” says Dr. Charlotte Thompson, associate veterinarian of Banfield Pet Hospital in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania. However, Thompson does warn pet owners to be aware of possible allergies that your pet may have to the laundry detergent used to wash the blanket, as it may cause an allergic reaction if she is sensitive to the product.
Dr. Malora Roberts, associate veterinarian of Deepwood Veterinary Clinic in Centerville, Virginia, suggests using blankets that are harder for pets to shred, such as microfiber or fleece. “I would not recommend something with big knit holes,” she says. Larger or looser threading on a blanket is easier for pets to pull with their nails or teeth, and they may end up tearing or eating it. Cats especially like to chew on string and yarn, which can get stuck in their digestive system if swallowed.
Regarding overheating and the appropriate amount of time your pet should spend under a blanket, common sense should also be practiced here. “Our pets can thermoregulate on their own,” Thompson says. “You just have to give them the ability to choose where they want to be.” Since they can manage their temperature like humans, they know when they are becoming too hot. “When they’re hot, they will get up from the blankets,” Roberts says. “Most of the time, they will self-regulate pretty well.” As long as they can easily escape from the blanket, they will move when they’re ready. A space heater should not be placed near a dog’s kennel when she is inside of it, as she does not have a way to escape the heat when she becomes too warm.
Suffocation isn’t likely to occur when your pet is using a blanket, but it still helps to be aware of what type of blanket she is using. “They wouldn’t suffocate if [the blanket is] a breathable material,” Roberts says. If the blanket is not made of a material that would feel comfortable for a person to use, your pet may feel the same discomfort.
Overall, when your pet is using blankets, electric blankets, or heating pads, it is important to “let them have their own agency,” Thompson says. If you just brought home your new pet or rescued her with little details about her past, it is important to start small and learn how she interacts with different household items. Blankets with tassels or fringes may tempt your pet to chew or bite them off, causing a choking hazard. Certain stitching or fabrics such as fuzzy material or thick fibers may tempt her to chew as well.
Cords for electric blankets or heating pads may pose a safety hazard, so it is important to keep them away from your pet. This is especially true for puppies and kittens who often like to play with objects that resemble a toy. “Anything that has an electrical component is not safe,” Roberts says. “You never know what is going to tempt them to chew.” If too hot, electrocution may cause burns, noncardiogenic pulmonary edema (where fluid fills the lungs, making it difficult to breathe), and death. Cats who like to knead on the cords may tear through the protective lining and shock themselves by accident.
How closely you watch your pet while using a blanket depends on your pet’s personality and habits. “It really varies from pet to pet,” Roberts says. “I always recommend monitoring first.” Puppies and kittens may especially need closer watch until they become older.
A pet-safe alternative to a blanket is a heat disc that can be heated in the microwave and usually comes with a fleece cover. Pets can safely lie on it or next to it and benefit from its warmth. As long as she has a means of moving away from the disc, it is safe to offer your pet.
If you keep pets outside (e.g., guinea pigs, rabbits), be sure to use material other than blankets to provide warmth, such as straw. When blankets get wet or dirty, they hold in bacteria and may cause your pet to get sick. Blankets can also become cold in the winter season when they are kept outside, so they are best for indoor use.
Overall, trust your pet to know when to move out from under blankets, practice common sense when allowing access to blankets, and be sure to keep all electrical cords and wires stored away. Once you know your blankets are safe for your pet, your winter will be warmer and safer for the whole family.