Outdoor Winter Hazards
Western Massachusetts is a great place to live if you like a variety of winter sports and activities. From skiing to skating to playing hockey outside on a frozen lake, there are so many things to do to enjoy the cold weather and the snow. But while we’re enjoying all that winter has to offer, we need to keep in mind that our pets don’t always have the same protections from the elements that we humans have.
Housing. If your dog or cat primarily lives outdoors, it’s imperative to give them a warm and safe place to live. Heated and insulated dog and cat houses can be purchased on Amazon, Chewy, or even on Etsy. When looking for a winter dog or cat house, look for one with a raised doorway so rain or snow doesn’t get in the enclosure as easily. Look for one with a door covering such as heavy burlap or a thick sheet of plastic to keep out the wind.
The house should be insulated and not too large. It should be large enough for the dog or cat to move around in comfortable but small enough so that his body heat can warm the area. Use straw, not hay, for flooring/bedding in the house. You can buy straw at farm supply stores and pet stores. Hay is usually used for feed and will end up getting wet and cold and may mold, so be sure to purchase straw instead.
You can also purchase self-warming beds/pads for your outdoor pets which are made out of materials that use your dog or cat’s body heat and then radiates that back to your pet. For colder climates, you can get heated beds for your cat or dog. Either of these can be purchased at your local pet supply store or on Amazon.
Alley Cat Advocates have instructions on how to make your own cat shelter out of a Styrofoam cooler or a plastic bin such as a Rubbermaid storage container for your own outdoor cat or stray cats in your neighborhood that don’t have humans to watch out for them.
Food and water. Animals who mainly live outdoors need more food in the winter than their indoor counterparts because it takes energy to stay warm. Besides heated bowls, there are other things you can do to help out your outdoor pet. Use plastic bowls instead of metal bowls. Your pet’s tongue can stick and freeze to metal in cold weather. Check water bowls frequently so they don’t freeze over. Use deeper bowls rather than wide bowls. Consider feeding canned food instead of dry food since your cat or dog will expend less energy digesting the canned food. Warming pads under the food and water bowls can help keep them from freezing.
Dog walks. Your dog probably LOVES going for walks and who can blame them with all the new things to smell and places to pee? But winter has its own challenges when it comes to dog walks.
Like it is for humans, wind chill can be dangerous for our pets. If you have a dog with a thick undercoat like German Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, and Huskies, the wind probably won’t bother them much on your walks. But short haired dogs and small dogs may be much more comfortable wearing a jacket or a sweater to fend off the wind.
Will your dog tolerate wearing boots? CONGRATULATIONS if she will. Mine, not so much. Just the act of trying to put boots on my big girl, Stella, tires me out to the point that once they’re on I’m ready for a nap instead of a walk. (And she’s too busy trying to tear them off to go on a walk.) She doesn’t care that boots help to protect paws from frostbite or from ice melt chemicals or rock salt that may stick to her paws that she is likely to lick off later. We keep walks short to guard against frost bite on her paws and to ensure that she doesn’t ingest chemical ice melt by licking it off her paws, the first thing to do at the end of a walk is to carefully wipe her paws with a damp cloth.
Of course this isn’t a comprehensive list of the dangers facing pets in the winter, but it’s a starting point to start thinking about how to keep your dog or cat safe this winter.
Be their voice. If you see an animal that is spending long periods of time outdoors without adequate shelter or food and water, politely speak to the owners. They may not understand the dangers of sustained freezing temperatures to animals who live outdoors. If that’s not an option or you feel it wouldn’t be safe to do so, the Humane Society of the United States has a helpful web page with steps you can take to get help for that animal. What to do if you see a pet left out in the cold
Stay safe while you’re enjoying all the fun winter activities that are in store for you and your pets this year!