10 Pet Care Tips For The Winter Season
Read Time: 8 minutes
With the winter season here, it's always a smart idea to invest in ways you can help keep your four-legged family safe and feeling their best. Explore these tips for keeping your pets protected from the elements, relaxed during stressful holiday gatherings, and happy and healthy at every turn.
1. Stick to your pet's routine.
Your pets are creatures of habit—deviating from their routine can be extremely hard on them.¹ If you fail to meet their basic needs in predictable ways, they are more likely to become anxious or stressed—which can manifest as anxiety and aggression, leading to them becoming destructive or even going to the bathroom in inappropriate areas.
‘Tis the season of chaos after all! Between holiday get-togethers and wild winter storms there is a lot that can potentially disrupt their sense of calm. If you commit to ensuring that they stick to a consistent meal schedule and get in their daily walk or play session, they’re much more likely to feel and behave their best—regardless of what comes their way.
Routines aren't just good for your dog or cat,—they're good for you! If you’ve got a busy winter ahead, keeping your pets on a consistent schedule may could it easier for you to also maintain your own.
2. Keep your pets inside.
Just as with heat, the cold can be dangerous for your furry friends.² Hypothermia sets in within only a few minutes in freezing temperatures, so you'll want to limit outside time and ensure they are exercising or bundled up (instead of just left sitting outside in the cold). Cats should not be allowed outside in the winter, as their size puts them at higher risk for hypothermia or frostbite when the weather approaches freezing.
Keep pets inside instead of leaving them alone outside when the temperatures drop. However, if you must keep your pet outdoors for whatever reason, ensure they have a dry, draft-free shelter withiin which they can move around comfortably. You'll want to ensure the shelter is heated with a heater or cozy enough that it retains body heat with a layer of shavings or straw to keep them warm. You should also take care to make sure the door is covered with a heavy weather shield to keep the moisture out (and heat in).
Finally, double-check your bowls. Make the switch from metal to plastic bowls, so their tongues won't get stuck to the metal! Also, make sure their water is fresh and not frozen. If your pets will be spending a lot of time outside during the winter, ensure you're feeding them extra food since staying warm burns a lot of energy.
3. Protect short-haired pets from cold weather.
If you have pets with short hair you'll need to take extra steps to keep them warm. Short-haired pets are especially at risk for hypothermia and frostbite, as their coat isn't really thick enough to protect them from the elements.³ If you have a small or short-haired dog, they likely would not mind wearing a sweater—even if you're only going for a short walk.
Short-haired dogs often don't have enough fur to protect their ears, noses, or paw pads, so you may want to wrap them up in ear warmers and special dog booties to keep them warm if you go out on longer walks. Remember, no matter what the temperature is outside, the windchill can be life-threatening. Make sure you take extra precautions to keep your pups warm!
4. Keep an eye out for common winter poisons.
There are all sorts of hazards to keep your pets away from in the winter—inside and outside.⁴ You'll want to be mindful of holiday decorations and ensure lights are not dangling in places that might entice your pet to chew them. Tinsel is a choking hazard that looks especially attractive to cats. You also may want to avoid any glass ornaments or old-fashioned bubble lights containing methylene chloride.
It's also important to bear in mind that many potpourris, essential oils, and scented candles can lead to dangerous respiratory illnesses in pets. Poinsettia flowers, holly berries, lilies, mistletoe, and yew are all toxic to pets if ingested—make sure you’re carefully scanning holiday bouquets before just placing them anywhere curious pets could get their paws on them.
Outside, you need to watch out for antifreeze, which is a deadly poison with a sweet smell that all kinds of animals are drawn to. You should wipe your pets’ feet after they come back inside, as well. Rock salt and other chemicals used to melt ice and snow irritates your their paw pads and can even poison them when they clean their feet after the walk! Call a vet immediately if you think your pet may have ingested rock salt or ice melt.
5. Skip the baths.
While it may be ideal to keep your pet looking and smelling for your holiday guests, less is more. You should only bathe your pet once every couple of months to help preserve the integrity of the oils in their coats, which protect them from the elements and keep them looking their best.⁵ Not to mention, for a lot of pets bathing is often stressful and may not do you any favors if you want to keep them on their best behavior when you have company. You can use scented, waterless sprays or shampoos to freshen them up instead of a full bath.
6. Watch out for stress during travel.
If you plan on traveling with your pet to visit friends or family during the holiday season, you will want to be extra mindful of all that traveling with a pet entails. Often, traveling can be extremely stressful for pets and lead to increased anxiety. Travel itself can be stressful—along with a new environment, disrupted routines, and being surrounded by strangers. It’s also not a bad idea to chat with your vet if your pet experiences travel anxiety.
Many pet parents opt for non-intoxicating CBD chews to help manage anxiety, pain, or stress when given daily throughout a vacation.⁶⁻⁸ CBD pet treats or tinctures may also help balance their overall mood, appetite, and metabolism—making it easier to keep them on an eating and sleeping schedule while you visit the in-laws this winter.⁹
7. Avoid table scraps.
There are a lot of holiday foods out there that may be toxic to your pets.¹⁰ One way to ensure you're keeping your pet safe and healthy is by avoiding all table scraps that could make them sick. Alcohol poisoning in pets is common during the holidays due to them being given bits of rum-soaked fruit cake or unbaked dough containing yeast. You'll want to avoid giving your pet things such as chocolate, cocoa, sugarless candies, grapes, raisins, currants, and (often fatty) leftover meat scraps. These can lead to kidney failure, choking hazards, seizures, inflammation, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
The best thing for your pets is their regular, balanced meals. However, there are still a handful of safe foods you can give to your pets in moderation if they have been good all year and deserve a plate while you clean up the holiday dinner.¹¹
8. Help outdoor animals.
If you are aware of outdoor cats roaming the neighborhood, give them a hand by making warm, dry cat shelters using a tub and blankets. This keeps them out of warm engines that can injure (or kill) them.¹² You should always bang on the hood of your car before starting your engine to scare away any animals that might have crawled inside to stay warm.
Additionally, you should clear up summer furniture or decorations from your place before the first snowfall to protect deer and other wildlife from getting caught or tangled in anything not visible to them beneath the leaves or snow.
9. Don't give pets as presents.
Maybe one of the best ways to care for a pet this winter involves not getting one at all. There is often an influx of abandoned pets a few months after holidays such as Christmas or Easter.¹³ Unfortunately, while giving or receiving a pet as a holiday gift may seem like a wonderful thing, pets are a lifelong commitment requiring time, energy, and money to properly care for. While it might feel like you're making someone's dream come true, they may not be ready to care for a pet—or worse, they had a different pet in mind altogether. Pets aren't disposable playthings, so as much as your child or grandma wants a dog, the responsibility may not be age-appropriate.
10. If you see something, say something.
While this one doesn't directly involve your pet, keep an eye out for any other fuzzy friends who need a hand! Some pet owners are unaware of risks posed by the cold—if you do see pets left out in the cold for extended periods of time, politely share your concern and maybe some ways they can resolve it. If they respond poorly, you may want to get animal control involved or report winter animal neglect to the authorities.¹⁴
At the end of the day, there's a lot you can do to keep your pets safe this winter. Keep these tips in mind as you traverse the next few months to help keep your pets safe, cozy, and happy!