I grew up in the harsh winters of Kansas. As a kid, winter was bliss. I didn’t have to shovel snow, or scrape the icy windshield; I got to play in it. However, my dad believed that the dogs were fine out there in the dead of winter, unless there was a blizzard or “big storm-a-coming.” Only then would we prepare the basement for our black Labrador and German Shepherd-Golden Retriever mix, Sampson and Sheba. They were both allowed inside, but had to stay down in a carpet-free, secured area of the basement for the night. To a 7 year old girl who adored her canine companions, this was fine to me because I got to see my buddies inside for a night!
Things are different now.
It’s not recommended that you leave your animal companion outside in the freezing temperatures, with or without snow. Most dogs and all cats are safer indoors. No matter what the temperature, the freezing wind chill can threaten their lives.
Fur isn’t gortex. A dog or cat’s fur doesn’t always protect them from extremely cold temperatures. In fact, when most pet fur gets wet from walking through snow, they actually become more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite because their fur chills them instead of keeping them warm.
Cold Weather Protection
If you know of any cats that live outdoors consider building (or buying) a structure where they can go to get out of the inclement weather. Provide insulation in their shelter. Use blankets. Straw (not hay) is also a good insulator. Provide a heat source. Some houses have the capability of connecting a light bulb as a heat source. Other options may be warm water bottles. Be careful with heating pads, as they can chew through them. Anytime you are providing a heat source, be sure that the animal is able to move away from it if they get too warm. Alley Cat Allies has an extensive list of shelters that you can build. You can build a basic shelter, or an elaborate one. Check out their Cat Shelter Options!
Click on the image below to learn how to make an easy shelter.
Slap The Hood! Keep ’em on Leash! And Wipe Those Feetz!
We have all heard the stories about outdoor cats and their terrible injuries or deaths because they sought warmth in a car engine compartment. You can prevent this by simply slapping the hood a couple of times or honking the horn before starting the engine. The noise will startle the cat and hopefully encourage him or her to make haste and leave!
When you are out and about with your canine or feline, keep them on a leash at all times during a snow storm. In snow, they can lose their scent and easily become lost. The ASPCA states that more pets are lost during the winter than during any other season. Keep their ID tags on at all times!
Be sure to wipe off their paws, legs and stomach when they come inside from the sleet, snow, or ice. The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can make them sick and irritate the pads of their feet and their stomachs. Check to make sure there is no ice stuck between their toe pads. These pieces can be very sharp and tear their skin.
Consider getting snow boots and a coat for for animal companions!
Keep those “Cold Blooded” Critters Warm!
While most exotic animals are housed indoors here in the northern part of the states, there are still some key things to keep in mind during winter. When housing reptiles in the home, remember that your house temperature drops as the temperature outside drops, so you will need to adjust their enclosure heat sources accordingly. The most important part of their heating set up is a good quality digital thermometer. Place the thermometer where the reptile will be and measure the warm and cool ends of the cages as well as the night temperature. If these temperatures fall outside of recommended ranges, then provide a supplemental radiant heat source. Use a lamp -not a hot rock or heating pad — Burns can result from these. Here are a few more tips for keeping your reptile friends safe and warm during cold weather.
NOTE: Overheating (even from heat lamps) is much more dangerous than the cold is for reptiles. Use caution! Hibernation is not recommended for any reptile without a reptile veterinary consultation first. Many pets die every year from incorrect hibernating techniques.
Even native turtles need a source of warmth in the winter. Here Little David is enjoying some rays of sun on a cooler day.
Feathered Friends Need Warmth and Shelter, too!
Ideal Temperature Ranges For Parrots
The majority of birds should not be kept outside when the weather is below 40 degrees – unless adequate shelter is provided. The ideal temperature for most birds is between 65 and 90 degrees F. African greys, cockatoos, and amazon parrots prefer temperatures around 70 to 80 degrees. Miniature parrots (parrotlet and fig parrot) cannot be kept in temperatures below 50 degrees.
How to Keep them warm
- Get a heater! Ceramic heaters produce a constant flow of heat without light that disturbs your bird’s sleep. Keep the heater away from the bird and enclosure; these heaters can get very hot.
- Get a warming perch. Birds lose a ton of heat through their feet; heating perches are a great way to keep them warm.
- Solo birds don’t have the option of huddling up with a mate to keep warm. Provide your loner bird with a warm soft fabric to snuggle with!
- More Temp Tips
- More Winter Tips to keep your parrot healthy, including how to provide adequate UV Light!
Soothe the Seniors’ with Added Warmth!
These rapidly fluctuating temps dipping down well below normal can really affect aging pets with arthritis. And since we always want to look at the BIG picture when it comes to our animal companions, we need to recognize that joint stiffness and pain can exacerbate (or create) behavioral issues and tension in the home, especially in multiple cat homes, or in homes with multiple species. Chronic pain can lead to increased vocalization, irritability, aggression, fear, and a host of other behavioral issues.
One of the many ways that we maintain peace and harmony in our home is to make sure that each senior is content and comfy 24/7. One way that we do that is by placing “warm spots” for them on each level of the house. This allows him to retreat to a safe, warm, and soothing spot when they want to, they all have their own places, and it allows them to find a warm patch when a cold snap comes through. As you can see, this homemade heated bed is for our senior cats, who have a hard time navigating in and out of tall beds.
We also LOVE these heated cat beds for the more agile cats in the home. You can view them here.
Although this sort of low heat source is not likely to penetrate deep into a cat or dog’s hip joints, many are soothed and comforted by having a warmed spot, and the warmth can encourage blood circulation through those stiff muscles.
Safety First: Always be sure your pet does not have access to the wires, or anything else that could be harmful. And be sure the PET heating pad is set on the lowest setting, and it’s well insulated under blankets and other materials.
If you have a home with pets who can not be trusted around wires and such, here’s a non-electric option. And Here is the heating pad that’s recommended for small animals.
Remember: Heat rises, so the house may feel very warm to us, but at a cat and dog’s level, it’s considerably cooler. If you have senior pets, talk to your veterinarian about what can help sooth those achy joints, especially during these cold weather months!
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has some great tips on how you can help your furry family members in cold weather:
Did you know?
- Animal neglect is considered a misdemeanor crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
- All but nine states (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, and North Carolina) specifically require pet owners to provide adequate shelter for a pet outside, the definition of which generally includes some variation of “protection from the elements or extreme weather.”
- Felony penalties can be levied in Massachusetts and Oklahoma for any animal neglect case.
- Felony charges can be applied in animal neglect resulting in death in California, Connecticut, Florida and Washington, D.C.
Be a Conscious Companion!
PLEASE, If you see any animal that has been left outside in extreme temperatures (a neighbors pet, a business’s pet, etc.) find the courage to say something. If you are not comfortable going on your own, take someone with you. Be the voice for the ones who need your help. Ask if the person if they need help setting up a shelter, if they need blankets, or if they would like help in anyway. Don’t be accusatory. Be helpful. It will come across more meaningful and they may accept your help. If they don’t respond well to your offerings, the HSUS suggests that you contact local law enforcement agencies. Pets left outside in extreme temperatures without food and shelter are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and even death, and this places their owners at risk of facing criminal charges. The HSUS lists details of how you can help neglected animals during these winter months.
Remember that even though animals have their own instincts, as their guardians we have to be responsible and take precautions for them on their behalf.
Winter Weather Recap:
- Never leave your pet outside during a snowstorm for longer than you’d would want to be out there with them. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet.
- Consider caring for and/or building a safe shelter for outdoor cats.
- Prepare indoor play activities for your pets who are used to more outside time.
- Stock up on pet food and medicines your animals may need, as winter storms can take out power, close roads, and even trap you in your home.
- Thoroughly wipe off your dog’s paws and belly with a moist washcloth after going outside. Snow-melting salt can be very painful to dogs’ feet and cause illness if ingested. Clumps of snow can accumulate between toes and cause pain as well. Dog boots and salves can be purchased to protect sensitive dog paws.
- During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep underneath cars for shelter. Bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give any resting cats a chance to escape.
- Consider giving short-haired or smaller dogs a coat and booties to wear outside to protect them from the elements and the chilly temperature.
- If you lose power, be sure candles aren’t in locations where your pet can knock them over.
- Be aware of snow-melting salt, which can be painful to animals’ paws and make them ill if it’s ingested.
- Create an emergency plan.
- Stay up to date on storm conditions and warnings in your by checking with your local Office of Emergency Management.
- The ASPCA’s free mobile app provides pet owners with critical information on what to do before, during, and after a disaster, and gives personalized instructions on how to search for and recover a lost animal in a variety of circumstances.
- You may also store your pets’ medical records and other important information — such as microchip numbers and veterinarians’ contact information — often needed when bringing your animal to an evacuation shelter. Visit ASPCAapp.org to download on iTunes or Google Play.
- The ASPCA’s shareable cold weather pet care infographic may be found here. For more information on cold weather pet safety tips from the ASPCA, visit aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/cold-weather-safety-tips.
How do you keep your animal companions safe during the winter months?
Please share with us and help others!