By Nicole Pajer
Winter weather can pose all sorts of threats to your four-legged friends. So when it comes to pet care, it’s crucial that you plan for upcoming snowstorms or freezing weather.
“You never know when the weather is going to take a sudden turn for the worse, so it’s a good idea to prepare well before the start of snow season,” says Portland-based veterinarian and author Dr. Jason Nicholas.
Frigid temperatures, if not properly planned for, can lead to dangerous conditions like frostbite, dehydration, and hypothermia, Nicholas notes. “As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention can go a long way in keeping your pets safe this winter season.”
Here are eight ways to prep your animals for the dropping temperatures and inclement weather.
The cold weather can cause discomfort for pets suffering from arthritis, skin problems, or other medical issues. Getting a veterinary checkup before bad weather strikes will ensure your pet is healthy and ready to face the winter season. “A vet checkup prior to the onset of winter snow can help to make them more comfortable and put your mind at ease,” Nicholas says.
Frozen sidewalks and roadways can be uncomfortable and even dangerous for dogs, especially if they are treated with de-icing products like rock salt, warns Dr. Erin Wilson, medical director of the ASPCA Adoption Center. She recommends applying petroleum jelly to their paw pads before venturing outdoors and/or using pet booties to help minimize contact with harmful ice-melting agents.
This is especially helpful for dogs with shorter fur who don’t have a thick coat to rely on to keep them warm. And the sooner you get your animal used to wearing an accessory, such as a jacket, the better.
“If possible, get your pet used to a sweater, coat, or booties ahead of a cold snap, so that when cold weather arrives, they are used to wearing the items and are more relaxed and comfortable with you putting them on,” Wilson says.
“If you have a dog who spends the vast majority of his time indoors and you plan to take them to a snowy cabin, allow them to get used to cooler weather, wind, and other weather conditions before the trip, so that the needed adjustment is less dramatic,” Wilson says.
To do this, begin taking your dog outside for walks as the weather starts to cool off. Start slow and gradually build up the amount of time that you keep your pup outdoors. She also recommends taking your dog for a shorter trip to a cooler area before embarking on a more extended trip.
Fleas don’t disappear when the weather gets cold, so keeping pets protected is an important part of care year-round. “Fleas can hitch rides into homes and apartments on rats and mice that come inside when the temperatures drop,” Nicholas says. These pests love a warm host, he notes, and will feed off of dogs, cats, and even humans, when the need arises.
Pet owners should also be aware that fleas can remain dormant for several weeks to months and emerge when the conditions are right.
Whether your pet takes insulin, pain medications, or thyroid medications, you’ll need to have these prescriptions filled and on hand in case of a snowstorm. These events may slow down shipments to stores and veterinary clinics or prevent you from being able to get out and fill last-minute medications, Nicholas says.
Snowstorms could keep you and your loved ones cooped up for days, so it’s a good idea to stock up on additional pet food and healthy treats. If you’re in a pinch and find yourself without food in the face of a storm, Nicholas suggests boiling chicken (no bones and no skin) and rice for a bland stand in.
“It can also be a good idea to speak to your vet to get a few cans or a case of a highly digestible, low-fat prescription canned food,” he says. “This way, if you ever get caught without your dog’s regular food, you can just feed them this diet without much concern for causing digestive upset.”
“Make sure a friend or neighbor has a key to your house/apartment, and that your dog is comfortable with that person,” Nicholas says. “This is a good precaution for when you get stuck at work due to snow and can’t make it home to feed your dog and get them out for their walk.”
It’s also a good idea to have an emergency plan in place in the event that you get snowed in with your pets or caught out in a blizzard.
Per Nicholas, this involves keeping your pet warm by wrapping them in blankets and jackets, having extra food on hand, and most important, making sure that your pet is sufficiently hydrated. “As important as keeping your dog (and yourself) warm and well fed is keeping them hydrated,” he explains. “People can easily forget that dogs dehydrate in cold weather, too. In a snowstorm, dogs still need plenty of unfrozen drinking water.”
If you find yourself without access to fresh water, you can always melt snow water for your pup, in a pinch, Nicholas says. “If your stove is out of commission, put the snow in Ziploc bags, bring the bags inside, and wrap them in a towel to melt.”