Cold Weather Concerns
Fall is well underway and winter is just around the corner, so it’s time to start thinking of how to keep our furry companions comfortable in the cold. Many pets spend a good deal of time outside. Of course, we all want to do whatever is necessary to make sure they are warm enough. Pets with long coats are often very happy in the snow and cold, but some short haired animals can become hypothermic without sufficient protection. Below are some key points that may help you decide whether an animal is well equipped to manage cold weather.
• All animals tolerate cold weather better if they have time to acclimate, and are not placed outside in the middle of winter without prior exposure. Pets that spend the majority of their time indoors will only tolerate short periods in the cold, whereas pets who have had more outdoor exposure will have grown longer coats and developed extra fat for insulation. Outdoor pets may need a calorie increase to allow for this, and to help maintain their weight.
• Short haired pets are more susceptible to cold and may benefit from extra protection. Many dogs will tolerate and appreciate sweaters, coats, and booties to protect their feet. While it may seem obvious, shivering is a sign that an animal is too cold, and may be the start of a potential problem with hypothermia.
• The SPCA suggests that the bare minimum standard for outdoor pets is a consistent water and food supply, and access to windless shelter. All animals that spend any significant time outside need a shelter from the wind and from rain or snow. Insulated shelters are an added protection for more susceptible animals. Straw bedding will make pets much more warm and cozy. Bedding made of blankets or other cloth is less than ideal as it may quickly become damp which provides less warmth, and can become moldy. A deep straw (not hay) bed will allow pets to burrow in and stay warm.
• Accessible water and food that is not frozen is very important. Water bowls may need to be changed often to allow animals continuous access to water. Water bowls that are more deep than wide will freeze more slowly. Silicone bowls allow frozen contents to be removed more easily, and spraying foam insulation onto the bottom and around the sides of bowls will reduce freezing.
• The Tufts University Veterinary Hospital has developed a scale to assess weather safety for dogs, which takes into account the size of the pet, the thickness of their hair coat, how much shelter and bedding is provided, and the temperature. This may offer owners a guideline in making decisions about their pet’s safety and comfort in cold weather. The Tufts Animal Care and Condition scale may be accessed at : http://www.animalsheltering.org/resources/links/tufts_animal_care_and_condition_scales.html
• Stray and feral cats can often benefit from extra help in cold weather. Shelters must be placed in quiet areas with minimal disturbances or cats may shun them. They may be made of any water tight substance and ideally made with a small opening about 8 inches in diameter, and placed with the opening facing a quiet, sheltered area. Placing food near the shelter on a regular schedule will allow cats to know when to come and minimize their exposure to bad weather.
Your furry friend will be grateful that you are aware of cold weather issues and are addressing them with your pet’s best interests in mind. Of course, if you have any questions about your pet and their exposure to the cold, your veterinarian will always be happy to help!