A guide to cold weather care for your pets
By Dr. Roger Krogstad, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
It may seem inappropriate with the recent warmer December days, but subzero temperatures are just around the corner. Some pets, such as Siberian huskies, are genetically adapted for winter with a multilayered, thick hair coat and a northern climate heritage and will enjoy the change to colder weather.
Winter is primarily a concern for dogs, which tend to frequent the outdoors more often than cats.
In our houses with thermostats set lower and the colder temperatures at floor level, our pets will require more calories to keep body temperatures at their normal 101.5 degrees. Depending on hair coat and outdoor activity, most of these calories are provided by increasing the regular amount of food. In extreme cases, calorie supplementation with other sources can be discussed with your veterinarian.
A healthy digestive system is important to food efficiency, so be sure to have a fecal test done before the cold days arrive. Some dogs may seek out frozen stools to eat when their cold weather behaviors tell them to seek more food. This is another reason to be sure no parasite eggs are finding their way back into your pet from its or other dogs’ frozen “poop-sicles.”
The hair coat is a thermal barrier to heat loss and wind. A short, even hair coat may be more efficient than a long, matted coat, so prewinter trips to the groomer are not uncommon. Short-coated dogs will adapt to the colder temperatures for brief periods of time outside.
For longer stays outdoors, or if shivering is noted indoors, a large selection of pet sweaters can be selected for comfort. My former neighbor’s dog Snowball could often be seen out for winter walks wearing an overcoat and dog boots. Road salt and nonpet-safe ice melting products should be washed off your pet’s feet once back indoors.
The garage may become a danger zone in winter for curious pets. As mice move indoors, rodenticides are replaced and hidden from view. Unfortunately, pets still find ways to get into these poisons. Without immediate medical attention, rodenticides — especially the newer mouse baits — are strong enough to eventually cause death.
Antifreeze is another toxin to dogs or cats. It has a sweet taste, so if spilled onto the garage floor, it could attract attention. Ingestion of even a small amount could lead to kidney failure. There are now pet-safe alternatives being advertised for those interested.
Heartworm preventive and tick/flea products are designed to be used year-round for even rare exposure opportunities. A recent education video mentioned that the tick responsible for Lyme and other diseases can still be active at 40 degrees. Also, fleas can live through the winter near the foundation of your home and jump toward your pet if it comes near. Once on an unprotected pet, nature takes its course, and by spring, your house could be a flea hotel.
A later article will cover extreme cold weather. Until then, keep yourself and pets safe and warm.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.