5 ways to keep your pets safe and comfortable in winter

A cat and a dog cuddling in the snow.

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The bitter cold affects not only us, but our companion animals as well. Cats, dogs, birds and other pets (don’t forget farm animals) need special attention too when the temperature goes down. Here are a few things to remember to help them stay healthy throughout the winter season:

  1. Keep them indoors – Manitoba winters can be extreme so don’t leave your pets outside in the cold for a long time. Pets can get frostbite too. Cat and dog ears and paws are especially sensitive to this. Don’t allow your cat to walk outside. It can be dangerous as it can get lost in blowing snow. Caged birds, on the other hand, need to be indoors at room temperature.
    Take shorter winter walks, preferably when the sun is shining. Some small breed, short-coated dogs like Chihuahuas or Miniature Pinschers should not be taken out in extreme cold.

    Just like in the summer, don’t leave pets in the car. Heat can build up and suffocate them. And if the heater is not on, they can get hypothermia or freeze to death. If you must bring your pet and leave them in the car for a short time, make sure that they will stay warm. Bring some blankets for them to lie down and leave a window slightly open to avoid suffocation.

  2. Feed them a little more– They may need more food to compensate the loss of extra calories to keep warm. But don’t overdo it especially if they will have less exercise. Don’t forget hydration. Check their drinking bowls to see if their water is not frozen solid. Refill when necessary or consider getting a heated dog bowl.
  3. Protect their skin
    • Don’t shave your dog down to the skin. A thick coat can help keep them warm.
    • If you have a short-haired dog, it will need a sweater or jacket in winter.
    • Bathe them as little as possible to maintain their body’s natural oils. This will prevent dry, flaky skin especially for dogs.
    • Wipe their feet and bellies after walking outside to remove salt and chemicals they may have picked up from the snow.
    • Keep your furry friend dry. Use petroleum jelly or booties to protect your dog’s paws.
  4. Set a warm and cozy sleeping area – Give your pet a cozy dog or cat bed with a blanket or pillow. Make sure that you place it in a draft-free area and not on a cold floor. Meanwhile, caged birds appreciate extra warmth during the evenings, so cover their cage at night.
    If you use space heaters, make sure that they are out of reach for your pets. Same goes for radiators and fireplaces. Pets may snuggle too close to heating sources and get burned.
  5. Remove dangerous chemicals – Your car’s radiator may leak antifreeze which your pet may swallow. Antifreeze tastes sweet – dogs (and even children) will lick it – but it is highly toxic. Keep them away from the garage. You should also wash out antifreeze leaks with water to make sure that animals will not be harmed.

Watch out for animals seeking warmth:

Animals like outdoor cats (and other animals) may crawl under the hood of your car to keep warm. Honk your horn or tap your car’s hood before starting your engine to wake sleeping cats.

If you see a pet left out in the cold, locate the owner and politely inform them. If neglect continues or no owner is in sight, call the Winnipeg Humane Society at their Emergency Line – (204) 982-2020. You can also call the Animal Care Line (204) 945-8000; Toll free at 1-888-945-8001; or email at animalcare@gov.mb.ca. Posting a message on social media can help too. Lost pets in Manitoba. Or try Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert.

Exotic pets (e.g. lizards, snakes, tortoises) need specific care and may need more warmth in winter. For more fragile pets, it would be best to consult a veterinarian for proper care.
Sources: Keeping your pets warm this winter: Cold weather safety tips, Winnipeg Humane Society; Cold weather safety tips, ASPCA; 15 winter care tips for your dog, Dr. Ashwani Singh, Dogs Naturally; Winter care for pet birds, Ontario SPCA and Humane Society.

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