When Jackie Piepkorn takes her dogs Chocolate and Bell out in the winter, they’re always well prepared. After all, Piepkorn lives in frosty Minnesota and is chief veterinarian for the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, so she knows how to keep her Alaskan husky and golden retriever warm and safe.
Therefore, she takes water and extra snacks on their short dogsled trips through a local park in Mound, Minn. And shes sure to protect them and her two cats Venus and Celeste from exposure to cold, ice and other winter dangers.
You dont need to be a pro like Piepkorn to help your pets enjoy the winter. Just use common sense, says Jeffrey Klausner, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Just realize that pets need the same things as human beings in the winter, he says.
The most important thing to remember is water. When temperatures dip below freezing, Rovers water will turn into ice, leaving him high and dry. If you have an outdoor dog, consider investing in a heated water bowl, which retails for about $30.
And while dogs and cats do have fur coats, theyre still vulnerable to wind and water. If your pet lives outdoors, provide a fully sheltered den with dry bedding; special pet-safe heating pads can provide extra warmth. But if the wind chill dips to 20 below, bring them inside, Klausner says. And watch for frostbite, even in indoor-outdoor pets. Dogs and cats can get frostbite, especially on exposed mucus membranes or the tips of their ears.
Their feet, too, are vulnerable to ice and snow, which can cause painful balls of snow between the toes. Piepkorn says some long-haired pets are better off with the fur on their feet trimmed short to prevent matting, even though it sounds counterintuitive.
Salts and other chemicals used to clear streets and sidewalks also can irritate pets feet. If your pet is sensitive, you may want to wipe paws off; check the labels if you use snow or ice melt to make sure they are animal-safe.
Thinking about keeping your furry friend inside by the fire? Indoor pets face special challenges, too. Vets see more cats with respiratory ailments in the winter due to long-term exposure to wood smoke, so good ventilation is important.
Be aware that your pets are susceptible to indoor allergens just like people are, Piepkorn says.
And, just like humans, cats and dogs can get dry, itchy skin in the winter. Brush them regularly to help loosen dead skin and distribute their natural oil, and consider a conditioning spray to help moisturize their skin. Also, be sure there are enough essential fatty acids in their diet, which a premium pet food can provide, Piepkorn says.
But beware of overfeeding. Just like us, more sedentary pets may put on a few extra pounds in the winter. Resist giving extra treats, especially with all the rich foods around during the holidays.
You shouldnt do that, Piepkorn says. You should keep the diet consistent year-round.
Then, come spring, both you and your pet will be ready to enjoy the warm weather.