STILLWATER, Okla. – For those pet owners whose pets spend a good deal of time romping in the back yard or passing the time in a patch of sunshine on the deck, the arrival of winter may be a rude awakening for those furry friends.

Although Oklahoma has not experienced a deep freeze just yet, it is time to make sure your pets are well-cared for when the temperatures begin to fall, said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University.

“As pretty and soft as your pet’s fur is, it isn’t necessarily the perfect insulator, especially when the temperatures are extreme or when the fur gets wet,” Giedt said. “Compare it to being outside wearing a t-shirt when it’s below freezing. Your pet’s toes, nose and ears are especially susceptible to winter weather, too.”

If you suspect your pet has frostbite, cover the animals with warm towels. Gently pat dry the affected area and contact your veterinarian.

While winter weather can be hard on any pet, very young animals, as well as older dogs and cats, should not be kept outdoors. Giedt said these young pets simply do not have the fat, metabolism or the full fur coat they need to stay warm.

The best option for pet safety during the winter is to keep them indoors. If your pet is a full-time outdoors animal, it is imperative to provide adequate shelter from the elements. A covered enclosure with blankets or clean hay/straw/cedar shavings is a must. Another option is a heated floor mat. Check with your local pet store to see what is available.

“Try to face the opening of the shelter away from the wind. Also, if it rains and the bedding gets wet, replace it with dry bedding,” she said. “Wet bedding can grow bacteria and mold, which are not healthy for your pet.”

It is no secret exercise is good for both humans and their pets. For those who enjoy a nice walk with your pet, sidewalks and walking trails are likely to have been salted if there is ice or snow on the ground. While this is beneficial for humans to help keep them from slipping and sliding, salt can cause irritation on an animal’s foot pads.

Not only is the weather itself a concern for your pet, but the chances of exposing your pet to life-threatening chemicals also increases. Leaky radiators can leave pools of antifreeze in your driveway and is both a winter and summer issue. Although the sweet taste of antifreeze is appealing to your pet, is can be deadly, even in very small doses.

“Antifreeze is highly toxic and absorbs quickly into your pet’s system. The kidneys are the most affected organs and can shut down completely within 12 to 24 hours in cats and 36 to 72 hours in dogs,” Giedt said.

Another outdoor danger is animals who seek protection from the winter weather in dangerous places. Before starting and moving your vehicle, check under the hood and in the wheel wells to ensure there are no animals hiding.

Because it takes a few more calories to keep warm in the winter, your pet may need a little extra food. For pets who stay outside, make sure the water in their water bowls is not frozen.

“Winter weather will mean your pets require a little extra care to ensure their safety,” she said.

Source: OSU Extension