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How to Keep Your Furry Family Members Safe and Cozy During the Winter

Updated: Feb 7

12 Essential Tips for Pet Owners

As the brisk winds and heavy snowfalls characteristic of Northeast Ohio's winter set in, it becomes increasingly important for pet owners to consider the unique challenges this season brings. The region's often unpredictable weather, with its bouts of heavy lake-effect snow and frigid temperatures, calls for special attention to our furry family members' needs.

Keeping Pets Safe and Warm in Winter Weather

In Northeast Ohio, winter isn't just a season: it's a significant shift in the environment that surrounds us and our pets. While a blanket of snow may transform the landscape into a winter wonderland, it can also pose risks like hidden ice patches, toxic substances hidden beneath the snow, and dangerously low temperatures.

For pets that enjoy bounding through the snow, the thrill of a winter wonderland is undeniable. However, the joy of play must be balanced with safety measures to protect them from extreme cold, which can be particularly harsh in our region. And for those pets who prefer the comforts of a warm indoor space, it’s also important that we are creating a cozy and safe environment.

The colder months in Northeast Ohio demand a proactive approach to pet care. Whether it's preparing for a sudden snowstorm or ensuring daily walks are safe and comfortable - and taking advantage of the sun when we can - it's essential to be well-equipped and informed. This is not just about enduring the winter but making it a safe, enjoyable, and healthy season for our pets and ourselves.

To help keep our furry family members safe and snug during these winter months, let’s go through some specific tips and strategies, from paw protection to watching out for cold weather-related discomfort or health issues.

1. Protecting Paws from the Cold

One of the most immediate winter concerns is the condition of your pet’s paws. Exposure to snow, ice, and especially de-icing salts can cause dryness, cracking, or even burns on delicate paw pads.

  • Tip: Invest in a set of pet-friendly booties for walks. They not only protect against the cold but also prevent harmful chemicals from sticking to your pet’s paws. After each walk, gently wipe their paws with a damp cloth to remove any residual salt or antifreeze.

2. Recognizing Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite

Pets are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite, particularly short-haired breeds, seniors, and puppies. Hypothermia can occur when a pet spends too much time in the cold, gets wet in cold temperatures, or when pets with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold.

  • Signs of Hypothermia: Shivering, lethargy, low heart rate, and weakness.

  • Signs of Frostbite: Pale or blue skin, pain when touched, swelling, or blisters.

  • Preventive Measure: Keep outdoor trips brief and ensure your pet has a warm, dry shelter. If you notice any of these signs, wrap your pet in warm blankets and seek veterinary care immediately.

3. Ensuring Adequate Shelter and Warmth

Even for pets that spend most of their time indoors, creating a warm and comfortable environment is essential.

  • Tip: Provide a cozy bed or blanket in a draft-free location. Heated pet beds are available for extra warmth, particularly beneficial for arthritic pets.

  • If you have a pet that is likes to be outdoors (or care for feral or outdoor cats), create a safe, warm, dry shelter for them and bring them them inside, when the temperatures dip.

4. Adjusting Food and Water

Pets may require more calories in the winter to maintain their body heat. However, this can vary based on their level of activity.

  • Advice: Consult with your veterinarian to determine if your pet’s diet needs adjusting. Also, ensure that your pet has access to plenty of fresh, unfrozen water, as dehydration is as much of a risk in winter as it is in summer.

5. Safe Winter Walks

Walking in winter comes with its own set of hazards, from icy sidewalks to limited visibility. When you’re walking with your furry family member, make sure you’re staying extra-aware, for both of you.

  • Safety Tips: Consider a reflective coat or collar for your pet for increased visibility. Always keep your dog on a leash, as snow can mask familiar scents and make it easier for them to become lost. Choose a jacket with bright colors or reflective materials for you, as well.

6. Indoor Engagement

With fewer opportunities for outdoor exercise, finding ways to keep your pet mentally and physically active indoors is important.

  • Activity Ideas: Play hide and seek with treats, invest in interactive toys, or set up a mini agility course in your living room.

7. Be Aware of Indoor Hazards

Winter also brings indoor hazards such as space heaters and fireplaces.

  • Precaution: Keep pets away from heating devices to prevent burns or overheating and ensure they can’t knock them over.

8. Antifreeze Awareness

Antifreeze, commonly used in winter, is extremely toxic to pets but has a sweet taste that might attract them.

  • Preventive Measures: Always store antifreeze containers tightly closed and out of reach. Clean up any spills immediately. If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, it is an emergency situation that requires immediate veterinary attention.

9. Managing Dry Skin and Coats

Just like humans, pets can suffer from dry skin during the winter due to low humidity and indoor heating.

  • Tips for Care: Consider using a pet-safe moisturizer and a humidifier in your home. Regular grooming can help stimulate the skin and promote a healthier coat. Ensure their diet includes essential fatty acids, which can improve skin and coat health. Check with your vet if you have any questions about nutrition or supplementation. 

10. Holiday Hazards

The winter season often comes with holiday celebrations, which can present unique dangers to pets, including toxic plants (like poinsettias), electrical cords, and holiday ornaments. And even once “The Holidays” have wound down, there are still things to be aware of: chocolate on Valentine’s Day is toxic to both dogs and cats; Easter lilies can be deadly to cats; and green beer on St. Patrick’s Day…well…

  • Safety Tips: Keep potentially dangerous decorations and plants out of your pet's reach. Be vigilant about food hazards, such as chocolate and xylitol (found in sugar-free treats), which are toxic to pets, as well as marijuana and alcohol.

11. Cold Weather Ailments 

Coping with Arthritis in Cold Weather: Cold weather can exacerbate arthritis in pets, making it more painful and reducing mobility.

  • Management Strategies: Keep your home warm and provide soft bedding. Consider joint supplements or medications after consulting with your veterinarian. Gentle exercise can help maintain mobility and reduce discomfort.

12. Emergency Preparedness

Winter weather can lead to emergencies like power outages or being snowed in. It’s always a good idea to keep your eye on the weather forecast and even have a little extra pet food stored, in case you can’t make it to the store due to snow, ice, or cold temperatures.

  • Preparation Tips: Have an emergency kit ready with enough pet food, water, medications, and supplies to last at least five days. 

  • Know how to keep your pets warm and safe if the heating is off

  • For smaller animals (such as cats, small dogs, rabbits, and exotics), have an individual carrier that can store a food bowl, water bowl, and blanket, as well as any other necessities you might need, for each pet (pack everything into the carrier to store it when not in use). This creates a “go bag” for each of them, if you have to leave the house in the case of an emergency, to keep them safe. 

Winter Tips for Healthy and Safe Pets 

While winter can be a wonderland for pets, it also demands careful attention to their well-being. By following these tips and keeping a close eye on your pet’s behavior and health, you can ensure that they enjoy the winter season safely and comfortably. 

If you have any concerns about your pet during winter, don’t hesitate to contact us for advice and assistance.

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