Keeping Your Pet Happy and Healthy in Winter

Dr. Tammie

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March 7, 2022

If the weather is bad or very cold you and your pet may be spending more time indoors.  It is hard when the weather is icy and cold to go outside for activities.  On the other hand, there are some dogs who love to run and jump through the snow!  That same deep snow can cause walks to become more of a chore for dog owners.  Cats, like some dogs, may not enjoy the cold and may gravitate to the warmer areas of the home sleeping more in response to the shortened days.  We all can become “blue” in the winter and our pets likely pick up on their pet parent’s moods.  There are a few things to keep in mind to make outdoor activities more enjoyable for your pup and to help increase your kitty’s comfort during the winter months.

Around the Home

Preparation for colder months starts before the last leaves have fallen and snow starts to fly.  External parasites may invade the home since your house is warm and cold weather shortens the parasite life cycle.  Make sure to continue flea and tick preventatives into the fall and winter months.  If you are noting fleas on your pet when the weather starts to get cold make sure to double up on environmental controls in the home.  Spraying pet safe flea and tick products indoors as well as professional mitigation will keep you and your pet safe from pesky insect bites. 

Speaking of colder weather, it is a good idea to have your furnace inspected and the chimneys for your heating/exhaust systems inspected.  Wood, pellet and furnace chimneys should be inspected for any cracks, structural integrity and cleaning if needed.  A reliable chimney sweep will be able to help with the exhaust systems in your home.  Your furnace should be inspected for any functional issues and filters changed before they are fired up.  Furnaces that are not functioning correctly can cause carbon monoxide poisoning in both pets and humans.  Usually, pets will feel the effects first because of their small body size as well they spend more time in the home.  Reports of people feeling better when they go to work and feeling sick, tired, nauseated at home could indicate there is a problem with the furnace and heating systems in the home. Consider a carbon monoxide detector or a smoke carbon monoxide detector combination to help keep you and your pets safe.

Warm air can also be low in moisture or very dry and irritating to airways.  Make sure to clean any humidifiers and keep their filters changes.  Molds and pollens can be common indoor contaminants since some flowers may be brought in like mums or asters which can cause sensitivities in pets or people allergic to ragweed.  Pets and humans can react to decorations brought out of storage or even fresh pine trees that can bring mold and pollens into the home.  Using a HEPA air filters can help improve air quality in the home and remove pollen, dust and molds from the air.  Some house plants can also have molds that grow on the soil.  Covering the soil with an inch of activated carbon (can get at any aquarium or garden centers) will help keep molds at bay. 

Plants can do a lot to improve indoor air quality.  Keep in mind some house plants are toxic if ingested by your pet.  Keep plants out of reach either by hanging them or raising them where you pet does not have access to them.  Other options are to get pet safe plants or grow things like herbs indoors like catnip, parsley, oat grasses, mint even thinks like lettuces.  Some plants will require more lighting than just a sunny window can provide so plan for supplemental lighting. Growing plants inside can also be a fun hobby and can provide both humans and pets with enjoyment.  There are even special hydroponic, self-timed lighted units that can help you grow a whole healthy salad greens or herbs to use in cooking that can provide a dash of fresh even in the cold winter months.

Activities

Besides starting a new hobby or indoor garden, indoor activities help you bond with your pets.  For both dogs and cats enjoy and can learn to use Fluent Pet “buttons”.  Fluent Pet allows both cats and dogs can learn our words and help you understand what they want. Fluent Pet is also part of environmental enrichment and makes a great indoor training activity.

Trick training is also a good indoor activity and can be done with both kitties and pups.  Use positive reinforcement to mark the desired behavior.  Sometime training to a marker either a clicker or a word like “yes” can help mark the trick or behavior.  Once your pet understands the marking word you can use that to shape all kinds of behaviors.  With easy step by step praise and treat your pet will be a star quickly.  Trick training can also be related to teaching them to “target train” so they will push buttons or do other behaviors like “high five”.

Cats and dogs like hide and seek games of toys or high value treats, even their favorite human.  The first couple of times you may need to show your pet where you are stashing the high value treat but soon, they will learn to sniff and seek out the treat.  You can also hide things like a stuffed KONG® toy to keep them entertained longer after they find the toy.

Toys like stuffed KONG’s with your pet’s food, or treats, or even applying small amount of C.E.T.® toothpaste to the ridges or opening will help your pet brush their own teeth as they chew.  Of course, always watch for any damage to the toys and take them away if pieces are chewed off or the toy destroyed. Trying out new interactive laser toys for both cats and smaller dogs or even remote toys for kitty can add some entertainment to a dark winter day. 

You can also bring some outdoors, indoors by getting some Doggie Lawn for both your pup and kitty to play on.  The lawn is hydroponically grown real grass that is placed in a water proof tray.  Both dogs and kitties will be excited to see grass much earlier than spring!  The lawn is safe for both dogs and cats and will provide a fun resting place for your pet or a way to eliminate if walks become extremely difficult for dogs with arthritis or very small pups.

Think about in the cool winter months treating you and your pet and sign up for a subscription box that will include new toys and activities each month!  There are numerous boxes for both dogs and cats.  KONG has their own Dog Club box, but will soon have a Kitty KONG also available for cats.  Subscription boxes are a good way to try some new toys and also have something new to look forward to each month. 

Outdoors

While some cats may enjoy walking outside in a harness with a leash in the warmer months, usually in the winter, they want nothing to do with the cold weather.  If you do need to take your pet in the car, make sure to warm up your car before starting out.  May also with small dogs and cats want them to wear a sweater or other clothing to provide an additional layer.

Most dogs do enjoy being outside but keep in mind dogs can get frost bite or become hypothermic (low body temperature) with long exposure.  Boots may be helpful on some icy surfaces and make sure to wash the paws after coming in to make sure there is no chemical ice melt left on the paws.  You can use a paw balm to help keep the paws soft and supple in the winter time also. Probiotic balms or foot sprays can help maintain healthy paw skin and prevent cracking and drying.

Walks may need to be shortened depending on the weather outside.  Several short walks are better than no walks or activities outside at all.  If the weather is really bad consider adding in more play time indoors or indoor activities.  Pets that are prone to putting on a few pounds if not walked regularly may need extra fetch inside the home or other games and training sessions to keep them active. 

When going outside in cold weather keep your pup warm with sweaters and coats will also help keep their fur clean in the winter time.  Rain coats on top of a sweater will help your pup stay dry and cozy in the rain.  If the weather is particularly cold and inhospitable plan outings to doggy friendly stores or see if your local area has an indoor doggy exercise “gym”.  Many areas of the country have large indoor play and training facilities that may offer exercise classes for people and pups together or may have indoor training, agility, and balance physical therapy facilities that can help you and your pet have fun during the winter.  A training or exercise class is also something to look forward to when it is cold outside.

Larger dogs that enjoy being outside in the snow may be trained for skijoring. A similar dog harness used to pull sleds through the snow are attached to the waist harness on a human wearing skies (some people like to use a snow board instead).  The dogs will pull their human across the snow and reach very high rates of speed.  Probably not an activity for a busy urban environment but is a fun activity for a “ski” trip with your pet.  Likely best for large breed dogs or huskies, malamutes or other breeds that love a lot of activity in the snow. Besides the harness and the skies, may want to also consider boots for the pups to help protect their feet “mushing” through the snow!

Last Thoughts

Sometimes we need to be inventive to find ways to stay active in the wintertime.  With a little planning and dressing warmly both you and your pet will enjoy the winter months and look forward to the first signs of spring!  If you have questions about your pet’s behavior or keeping your pet active during the winter ask the Care Coaches or Veterinarians at AskVet for help with individualized activities. We are here to help you and your furry friend! 

 

That's another pawsitive tip from AskVet's Dr. Tammie! To learn more about pet care, you can chat with an AskVet veterinarian 24x7 on the AskVet app any time, day or night.

 

Use code BIVVY2022 for two months free of AskVet membership!

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