Wintertime presents challenges for our pets. Over the years, we've picked up a few tricks that can make life easier that we love to pass along. And, if you have any, we'd love to hear them.
Cats don't have an issue with outdoor weather in winter. When petting my bengal Streaky this morning, I couldn't help but think how good he has it. He never has to brave the storm, and has his food delivered right to him. Lucky guy.
Those that do go outside will just meow at the door to be let out, and then seeing the white stuff, turn around and head for a warm spot in the sunbeams shining through a window. And a few hours later, hoping with their amazing cat brains that the snow has left, they are back at the door.
But their indoor environment does change. It gets drier inside in the winter, and that can cause some issues. Water bowls dry up faster, and need the water changed more often due to hardening through evaporation. Skin tends to dry, get flaky and itch, and overgrooming can become an issue too.
Humidifiers make a big difference, both for pets and us. There are many options, from whole house units to single room devices, but a tip to make them work better and longer, use RO (reverse osmosis) or distilled water whenever possible. Both these options have no minerals in them to build up on the evaporators. And RO water is great for drinking, both for our pets as well as ourselves.
Unlike cats, most dogs do brave the conditions outside, so there is more to consider for their winter preparations. In the wild, dogs thick fur coats and tough pads protect them from the elements. Our pet dogs are generally less equipped to face our severe winter weather.
Short haired dogs and the little guys can benefit from a coat. Most coats are sized based on the measurement in inches from where the collar sits to the base of the tail. A properly fitted coat can make a big difference, and when they see the coat coming out, they know its walky time!
Double-coated dogs (shepherds, huskies, etc) have a rough outer coat and a fine undercoat (yes, that fluff that is everywhere around the house). The undercoat works as insulation. To work properly, it needs to be open, fluffy and dry. It is a common misconception that the more hair on a dog, the warmer it will be in winter. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
Thick matted coats actually make the dog colder, and can cause infections and other issues, not to mention the stink. Moisture gets trapped against the skin, which lets the cold cut into the dog, not unlike wearing a damp t-shirt under your winter coat. Winter grooming can help make those double coats work better, and dry quicker when they come in. An added bonus, less smell.
Another bonus of winter grooming is nails. Dogs nails continue to grow in winter, but are less likely to wear down when walking. So they grow long, and are painful when they walk, especially in winter. If you use boots, it gets even worse, they become harder to put on, and more likely to rip from the inside. A dog with long nails in a boot suffers the same way that we do with long toenails in tight shoes.
Pad care becomes a big issue as well. Dry indoors, salt outdoors, and a lack of good omegas in most pet foods can make for dry, cracked and painful pads. This just gets worse when the dog starts licking them.
Protecting the pads with boots outside, either winter boots or even the newer rubber booties can help. For dogs that can't/won't wear boots, there are a number of paw wax products that both protect and help prevent slipping. After going outside, cleaning salt and debris from the pads and conditioning with a moisturizing pad cream can help heal problems and using a bitter spray can reduce the dog's urge to lick. And, as always, proper nutrition can help any health issue. Adding in healthy omega3's, either in a better food or as an additive can make coat and pads much healthier.
A little planning can help prevent this winter from being a painful and expensive season.