Ah, winter, how do I detest thee? In one day, we go from wearing shoes and fall jackets to hauling on puffy parkas and clunky boots. We are slipping and sliding and walking head first into wind driven, blinding snow and know this is how it will be for the next five months or so.

Our pets also have to deal with this abominable weather and if it is hard on us, it can be even harder on them. Winter started early this year and as we scramble to get our cars and households ready to endure what lies ahead, we can’t forget to “winterize” our pets, too. They may be covered in fur but that is not a perfect insulator — especially when it’s very cold.

Many of my neighbours believe their cats should be allowed to roam free and, while I disapprove of this at any time of the year, to see their felines shivering by the front door just seems cruel. These are not wild or feral cats used to living outdoors all year long, but domesticated creatures that, if they could speak, would beg to be let inside their warm house. There are dangers to roaming cats all year long (hit by a car, attacks by other animals, etc.) but winter adds the weather factor with sub-zero temperatures and snowstorms that can prove deadly to an outdoor cat.

Will your cat be seen dashing across the street in a blinding blizzard? The best way to winterize your cat is to keep it inside where it will be warm and safe and let it observe winter through the living room window.

Dogs, on the other hand, need their daily exercise and must go out to relieve themselves regardless of the weather. And unless you use indoor pee pads or believe a few minutes in the backyard is sufficient, you will have to venture out into the elements as well for the walk your dog should really have. Understandably, in dangerous cold or a zero visibility storm, your walks will be more brief than usual, more to attend to toilet issues than to worry about exercise. Many dog breeds are well suited to being outdoors in all kinds of winter weather and actually enjoy the cold but, of course, when the temperature dips into the danger zone, these dogs should also be kept inside. Smaller dogs can tolerate the cold weather briefly and some do better if they wear a coat and boots to navigate the snowy and slippery surfaces they will have to walk on. Salt on roads and sidewalks can burn the pads of your dog’s feet and if boots aren’t practical, there are balms that can be applied to form a barrier against the salt. Keep your dog away from winter puddles as they may contain ethylene glycol, found in antifreeze, which can be fatal if ingested. It’s a good idea to wipe your dog’s paws and underbelly when you come in to remove any salt and ice melt they may lick. These, too, are toxic to your pet.

During the holiday season, your pets are exposed to items that are potentially toxic and dangerous. Keep them away from chocolate, plants, holly berries and their leaves as well as tinsel. You may have to erect some kind of pet proof barrier around the Christmas tree to prevent inquisitive cats and dogs from investigating too closely.

Winter can be a rude awakening for pets that have spent the summer outdoors as many just aren’t equipped to be out in frigid temperatures for prolonged periods. They can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite with over exposure to the cold just as we humans can. Sometimes, inside your warm home is the best place for them to be with only brief outdoor outings depending on the temperature. Have a safe holiday season and let’s hope for an early spring. In the meantime, keep wearing those winter hats.


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