As the weather changes for those of us in temperate climates, I notice animals putting on winter coats, eating more and snuggling up in cozy places – whether that is a special nest or their person’s lap. The tree squirrels in our local park spent the recent last gasp of warm weather busily stashing winter foods and preparing their dreys (nests), while my cats at home have been howling for more wet food and curling up with me on their favourite “mommy blanket” – a deep, furry throw that reminds them of their mama cats’ bellies. Have you noticed the critters around you preparing, too?
Of course, you can also help your animal friends prepare for and get through cold weather. Here are some ways:
- Know the signs of hypothermia, such as shivering, pale gums, enlarged pupils, a decreased heart rate, and a body temperature below 95° F. Also know the signs of frostbite, such as ice on the body and limbs, shivering and bright red skin that turns pale or black. If you notice an animal friend with this problem and they are not aggressive, be prepared to throw a blanket around them and take them to a vet. Do not rub them, as this can cause more skin damage.
- Try to bring pets in during cold or wet weather. If you have outdoor pets who can’t come inside, make sure they have a shelter they can stay in that is insulated. It should be just big enough for the animal to turn around in, restrict wind and rain exposure and have something soft and thick on the floor. Make sure that their water and food doesn’t freeze, as well. You can even buy heated water bowls that won’t freeze over!
- Dogs who go out and are not bred for cold weather (like huskies), can wear coats, sweaters and booties during winter. Short haired little dogs, like chihuahuas, the very young or old, and dogs with low body fat, like greyhounds, are especially vulnerable. If they don’t wear booties, make sure to keep a warm, wet cloth and a dry towel near your door. Then you can wipe any ice melting chemicals or salt off their paws and dry them off well when they come in.
- Low slung dogs can get snow on their bellies, and pets can slip on ice and snow, too, so try to make sure there is a dry path for them to where they “do their business.”
- In general, try to monitor your pets to make sure they don’t get into melting chemicals or salt, and always clean them if you see they are wet or crusted. Keep an extra wary eye out for antifreeze, which is deadly poison. Many animals like the taste of antifreeze, which may be left out or spilled more often in winter. If you use antifreeze, try to buy animal-safe brands, and tell your neighbours about them. If you see your pet licking antifreeze or anything that has had antifreeze in or on it, give them hydrogen peroxide to stimulate vomiting, give some activated charcoal capsules to absorb some of the poison if you have them, but by all means get them immediately to a veterinarian.
- Speaking of things you might find in a garage, don’t forget about car safety! Outdoor cats will sometimes climb up to stay warm by the engine, so check before you start your car. Also, if you’re taking your dog with you and might leave him or her in the car for awhile, make sure they are bundled up. A parked car can get chilly pretty fast!
- Pets tend to eat more and be less active during winter. It’s natural for them to want to eat a bit more, but watch out for obesity. Don’t stop exercising them completely because it’s cold out. Take dogs out for shorter, more frequent walks or to indoor areas. Play with cats indoors to keep them active.
- Keep your tropical birds warm, but try to avoid space heaters, as some can emit fumes that are toxic to avians. Try using a ceramic bulb heater to direct warmth at them without shining a light in their eyes. Make sure to keep cords, bulbs and switches away from curious, clever beaks and toes!
- For wild birds, stock your feeders with seeds. The oil in seeds helps them keep warm. For a good list of what seeds to stock and how, check out this article.
- Horses have special needs during winter. They should be monitored for good health before it gets cold, and be given more hay when temperatures drop.
Antlers are not required for winterizing,
but if your horse doesn't mind...
- Pet rabbits and rodents need to keep warm, too. Rabbits should be given extra hay to burrow in outdoors, unfrozen water and be monitored. If they are indoors and you use heaters or ceramic lamps, watch out for stray cords that could attract nibbling teeth! Make sure rodents have plenty or warm bedding and places like stuffed tissue boxes or hammocks to burrow in. It’s okay to add a little more fat to their diet, but watch their weight.
- Don’t forget about your reptile and amphibian friends! In the wild, they usually hibernate, but if they are in your home, they should keep to the temperatures they’re used to. Check water and basking area temps often to make sure the colder ambient temperature isn’t reducing the effectiveness of heaters and lamps. Also, consider buying an Uninterruptible Power Supply for heaters and lamps in case of short power outages, and definitely have a back up plan to take your cold-blooded friends to a warm location in case a storm takes out your electricity.
I hope this article has helped you to consider some ways you might help your animal friends during the cold season. Enjoy your winter and stay warm!