Pets Need Special Care in the Winter

Depending on where one lives, winters can be mild, miserable, or brutal. But even in Arizona, temperatures can get down well below freezing at night, even though it may reach 70 degrees in the daytime.

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Pets can find the nights far too cold. Some small animals, including small dogs, might even die during the night if left outside without protection.

Some dogs are bred for life and work in the snow. Huskies, malamutes, akitas, and other sled dog breeds can curl up in the snow, bury their noses in their tails, and sleep snugly. But most dogs are not designed for extreme cold. They need to be indoors with you. All pets should be inside the house most of the time during the winter, especially the short-haired, the skinny, the old, and the very young, the ones with the least protection from the cold.

Water Care for Pets

One of the most essential aspects of care for your pets is ensuring that they have access to enough fresh water at all times. You are probably well aware of the necessity for fresh water in the summer. Your pets need water just as much in the winter. If you feed your animals dry food, they will need more water than those who get wet food. Changing the water in your pet's bowl at least once a day, preferably twice a day, will keep a constant source of fluid for it. And keep the bowl clean.

Pets and Temperature Regulation

Thermoregulation is the process by which an animal maintains a stable temperature. For example, most people know that dogs don't sweat. Actually they do have some sweat glands, especially in the paws, but those glands are insufficient for cooling down the animal. They lose heat through panting. This is one type of thermoregulation.

In the winter, animals have to maintain their body temperature and stay warm. If the pet is kept outside without a warmed shelter, many will not be able to keep their core temperatures up and some will die. Some of the factors that affect thermoregulation include: 

  • Age - The youngest and the oldest animals are most likely to be unable to maintain their core temperature in the winter without protection.
  • Amount of fat - Thin dogs like greyhounds are much more susceptible to the cold than heavy dogs. The fat acts as insulation.
  • Size - Bergmann's Rule states that species that inhabit colder climates will be larger than those in warmer areas. Larger size enables the animal to conserve heat. Smaller animals have a greater surface area to mass ratio, meaning that they lose heat faster.
  • Breed - Some animals, particularly dogs, are bred for particular climates. Huskies have a thick, double coat that insulates them very effectively in the cold.
  • Coat color - Dark coats absorb heat just as white coats reflect it.
  • Coat texture - Heavy, fluffy coats are much better at insulating an animal from the cold than silky, thin coats.

Other Winter Care Tips

There are plenty of other things you can do during the cold weather and winter to keep your pet healthy. Some of them include: 

  • The air in a warm house is often dry, contributing to itchy, dry skin on your pet. A humidifier will help.
  • Limit baths and grooming in the winter.
  • A little extra food in the winter will help provide extra calories and extra heat.
  • Pets that are small, thin, young, or old may need clothes. A sweater will help keep the dog, cat, or ferret comfortable even if the house is slightly cold.
  • In many places, salt or chemicals are used to melt snow on sidewalks and roads. Wipe your pet's feet when you come home from a winter walk. Those same ice melting products can be poisonous to the animals, who will lick their paws. Booties are even better for protection.
  • Do not leave your pets alone in the car for any length of time. Cars can act like refrigerators in the winter, ending up colder inside than outside.
  • Keep antifreeze away from your pets and wipe up any spills. It's poisonous.

If you are cold, so is your pet. If you love them, give them the best life possible. Bring them inside during the winter.

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