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Keep Your Pets Safe During Winter Weather

For those pets that spend a lot of time romping in the back yard or passing the time in a patch of sunshine on the deck, the arrival of winter may be a rude awakening. 


“Winter weather typically means giving pets a little extra care to ensure their safety,” said Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, director of Continuing Education at the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine.


“Even though cats and dogs are usually covered in fur, it isn’t necessarily the perfect insulator, especially when the temperatures are extreme or when the fur gets wet,” she said. “Your pet’ toes, nose and ears are especially susceptible to winter weather.”


If you suspect a pet has frostbite, cover the animal with warm towels. Gently pat dry the affected area and contact a veterinarian. While winter weather can be hard on any pet, the youngest animals and older dogs and cats should not be kept outdoors. Young pets simply do not have the fat, metabolism or full fur coat they need to stay warm, and the best option for their safety during the winter is to keep them indoors. 


If your pet is a full-time outdoors animal, it is imperative to provide adequate shelter from the elements. A covered enclosure with blankets or clean hay/straw/cedar shavings is a must. Another option is a heated floor mat. Check with your local pet store to see what is available. 


“Try to face the opening of the shelter away from the wind. If it rains and the bedding gets wet, replace it with dry bedding,” Biggs said. “Wet bedding can grow bacteria and mold, which are not healthy for your pet.”


It is no secret that exercise is good for both humans and their pets. For those who enjoy a nice walk with a pet, sidewalks and walking trails are likely to have been salted if there is ice or snow on the ground. While this is beneficial for humans to help keep them from slipping and sliding, salt can cause irritation on an animal’s foot pads. Not only is the weather itself a concern for pets, but the chances of exposing your pet to life-threatening chemicals also increases. Leaky radiators can also cause a chemical hazard for your pet. Although the sweet taste of antifreeze is appealing to pets, it can also be deadly.


Another outdoor danger is when animals seek protection from the winter weather in dangerous places. Before starting and moving your vehicle, check under the hood and in the wheel wells to ensure there are no animals hiding in them. 


It takes a few more calories to keep warm in the winter, so your pet may need a little extra food. Additionally, clean fresh water is just as important as in the summer months. Make sure water bowls remain full of unfrozen water at all times. For pets who stay outside, make sure the water in their water bowls is not frozen. 


For general pet care tips, visit the College of Veterinary Medicine website.


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