Every winter I ask myself why we continue to live in Connecticut. As I am bundling up and covering every part of my body so I donít get frostbite I think about San Diego and Texas and Arizona. And then I think about all of the poor animals who also live in Connecticut and do not have anywhere warm to escape to.
And not just feral cats either Ė animals that are supposed to be beloved pets whose owners believe they can do just fine outside in winter. This is a myth and every year I write to try and educate just one more pet owner before they have a tragedy in their home.
Winter is so not my time for bonding with the great outdoors. Actually, my nice warm house and I are good friends through the months of January through March. It doesnít matter if I have nice warm coat and gloves and a hat Ė there is no way I am going to spend 8 to 10 hours hanging around outside in frigid temperatures. So how can I expect my animal companion to do that?
Trust me that the outside doghouse or your garage is not warm enough for your cat or dog Ė even with a blanket. And eating outside isnít a great option either. After all, how many picnics do you attend during the month of February?
Your poor dog or cat isn't real happy about being put outside anymore than you are. For some reason, humans seem think that because animals have fur, they don't get cold. I am not quite sure how that inaccurate belief came about, but I can assure you that most animals get very cold and the few dogs that are bred for cold weather also have their limitations.
Cats are small creatures, with the average weight between six and eleven pounds. Whether they have fur or not, they are cold and subject to hypothermia and frostbite. Itís just as dangerous to put your little dog out in the cold too. And I have seen some large breed dogs shivering in the cold, tied or kenneled during some very bitter cold days. If the temperature is below freezing you need to make sure your animals are inside during the day.
And if your dog is not used to being inside, then get a nice crate or a warm place in your basement where he can be safe from the cold. DO NOT expect your pets to sleep outside during the winter. If you are one of those people who do not allow your animals inside (at which point the question becomes why have an animal in the first place), change your philosophy during the winter.
If you are taking care of feral or semi feral cats who will not come in under any circumstances, then here are some important tips for you to keep in mind during the winter months.
Do you have a basement or garage that your pet can sleep in? This can become their safe haven. Put some warm beds, cat furniture, old chairs and lots of food, water and litter in the garage. Once you get them into the garage then keep them in for a week or two so they can get used to their winter digs. Then you can let them out during the day and at night make sure they get into the garage before the doors close. For the cat who fails to make it into the garage by the ninth hour, have several houses and/or igloos in the yard, filled with straw for insulation that they can cuddle into for one night.
If your animal ends up out in the cold, it is important to consider how the season will affect your pet. Improper shelters, lack of fresh water, antifreeze poisoning, frostbite or hyporthermia are very real threats that need to be prevented. To start with, make sure you inspect your pet's paws regularly to make sure the pads are not cracked or nails broken. You might also consider shoes or booties to protect their paws and provide coats and sweaters to help keep them warm.
Adding straw to your dog and cat houses will help insulate them. It is important to make sure any beds you are using do not sit directly on cold ground or concrete. You could even use wooden palettes to put inside large dog houses, basements and garages and put the bedding on the palettes. It is very important to watch for antifreeze leaks as even a small amount will cause death in a very short time. And even when you are letting your pets inside - watch fireplaces and wood stoves.
Protective screens and supervision around the fires is essential to keep your pet and your house safe! Frostbite is a very real and painful problem during the winter months. Frostbite most frequently affects ears, toes, tail and other areas least covered by fur. The skin becomes red and swollen and very pale and white. To treat frostbite you need to immerse the area in warm water for 15-20 minutes (NEVER USE HOT WATER) and then get to your vet ASAP. Home treatment should only be done if you cannot get to a vet due to the time of day you discover the frostbite.
Hypothermia occurs when a pet has been exposed to very cold temperatures or winds for an extended period of time. NEVER LEAVE YOUR PET OUTSIDE WITHOUT A PROTECTED AREA. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, low body temperature, drowsiness or exhaustion. You need to raise your pet's body temperature as quickly as possible. Surround your pet in hot water bottles, warm towels, heating pad, etc. and try to get him to drink warm liquids. Again, it is imperative to get to your vet as soon as you can.
Heated water bowls, heated beds and extra food are all musts during the winter, especially for feral cats who have no chance of finding any type of indoor protection. But your own pets do have the chance to stay out of the cold and it is up to you to make sure that they do.
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