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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Keep your pets warm and healthy this winter season

STILLWATER, Okla. – Just because they have a fur coat does not mean your pet can endure extended time outdoors when the temperature is frigid. Dogs, like other animals, must be out of the wind and dry for the insulating properties of their coats to be effective.

Dogs that evolved in warm climates have short hair coats to protect them from the sun and help them stay cool, versus dogs that evolved in cold climates and have longer hair coats. If you are cold, your short-haired pet may be cold, too.

Just as people add extra layers of clothing, bump up the thermostat or throw an extra log on the fire to keep warm, pet owners must take action to ensure their four-legged friends stay warm and healthy through the winter season.

“Oklahoma experienced record-breaking warm temperatures this fall, but now we’re finally starting to experience some winter-like weather,” said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University. “These frosty temperatures require pet owners take extra care of their pets. And remember, the wind chill affects our pets, too.”

During the frigid winter weather, the best and safest option is to keep pets indoors. If this is not an option, make sure they have adequate shelter to shield them from the wind, moisture and cold. Position the opening of the shelter so it is not facing the wind. If possible, cover the opening with a drape of some sort to help cut down the wind. Make sure the animal can easily get in and out of its shelter and it is roomy enough. 

Giedt also pointed out pet owners can purchase safe, heated floor mats or nonelectric warm bedding to provide extra warmth. Clean hay, straw, cedar shavings and even old blankets provide an insulating layer in the shelter. Be sure to regularly clean or replace bedding. Moist areas can grow bacteria and mold and external parasites can set up housekeeping in the bedding. 

“Sometimes people think just because the pet has a fur coat, the animal will stay warm. If your pet’s fur is matted, it doesn’t keep them warm,” she said. “It’s important if your pet must stay outside, keeps the animal’s coat well groomed.”

Short-haired dogs, elderly and very young pets should be kept indoors for their safety. An animal’s ears, tail and paws are more susceptible to frostbite. If you suspect frostbite, cover your pet with warm towels taken right out of the dryer, gently pat dry the affect area and contact your veterinarian.

Aside from the cold weather, pet owners also need to be aware of the increased possibility of antifreeze poisoning.

“This is both a winter and summer problem because cats and dogs are attracted to the sweet smell and taste of antifreeze,” she said. “If you spill some in your garage or driveway, clean it up right away. Antifreeze is highly toxic and absorbs rapidly into your pet’s system. In fact, initial signs such as vomiting or being very unsteady on their feet can present themselves in just an hour after ingestion.”

The kidneys are most adversely affected, often shutting down completely with 12 to 24 hours in cats and 36 to 72 hours in dogs. If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, contact your veterinarian immediately.

On occasion, Oklahoma finds itself in the middle of a deep freeze, complete with ice on sidewalks and roadways. While putting down salt can help ensure you do not slip and slide while trying to navigate the roads and sidewalks, salt can cause irritation on an animal’s foot pads.

“Pets also may drool more than normal if they’ve licked their salty paws,” Giedt said. “Check around for more pet-friendly options to treat your slick sidewalks around your home.”

Giedt said outdoor pets often seek warmth is places that can be dangerous, including under a car hood or inside a wheel well. Check your vehicle before starting it to make sure no animal has taken shelter.

Food and water are two other aspects of which pet owners need to be aware. Pets likely are burning more calories to stay warm, so a little extra food is necessary. Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh, clean water, too. Check the water bowl several times a day to ensure it has not frozen.

“Romping in the snow with your pet can be a lot of fun during the winter. Just make sure you’re providing your pet with the best possible care this winter to ensure Roofus or Miss Kitty remain safe and healthy,” she said.

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Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
159 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)
trisha.gedon@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000