Pet Talk: Cold weather tips for your pets

From the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

As the temperatures begin to drop, many pet owners worry about their pets spending time outdoors. Here are some tips for keeping the four-legged members of your family warm and safe during the winter months.

For smaller pets, keeping them inside as much as possible during the colder weather can be the most beneficial. If your pet is primarily an indoor pet, this shouldn’t be much of a change. Nonetheless, short exposure to the outside cold can be fine and is usually not detrimental to the pet’s health.

Dogs and cats shiver a lot like people. This action is used to help generate body heat in cold climates,” said Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “If your pet shivers while outside, shorten the length of your trips together to help reduce this trembling. Providing extra bedding like blankets and towels will also keep your pets warm and cozy.”

Signs that your pet is uncomfortably cold may include excessive whining, shivering, appearing anxious, slowing down or stopping, and looking for a warm place to burrow. If they begin to exhibit any of these behaviors, you should bring them inside (if outside), or wrap them in a blanket in a warm room.

For larger pets that cannot come inside, making sure they have an adequate outdoor shelter is important for their comfort and safety. Shelters such as doghouses and stables can be very helpful during cold winds, and should have extra bedding (such as blankets, towels, hay, etc.) added for additional warmth.

An important thing to remember for outdoor pets is to make sure they always have a fresh supply of water,” said Diesel. “If it gets cold enough to freeze, this water source should be checked regularly to make sure the water doesn’t freeze over. Moving water sources like fountains are less likely to do this.”

You should also be extra-cautious with your senior, arthritic, or frail pet during the winter. Cold weather can be especially difficult for senior pets and those with degenerative joint disease or another chronic, debilitating condition. Make sure that this pet has soft, warm bedding that they can rest in, and since arthritis worsens during cold and damp weather, take special care to handle them gently.

Finally, cats that are left outdoors during a cold night may seek warmth by crawling up under the hoods of cars or into the wheel wells. Starting or moving the vehicle can hurt or even kill a cat taking shelter inside you car. During the winter months, it’s a good idea to bang loudly on your car hood before starting the engine as a warning to a cat that might be in or around your vehicle.

Just like people, some pets do better with colder temperatures than others. It is important to take into consideration your pet’s size, as well as age and health condition, when preparing for the winter months ahead.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Posted Dec. 1, 2014

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