Winter Tips


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For indoor pets going outside:

A good rule of thumb is to never leave pets outside longer than 1 minute per pound your dog weighs. (small dogs under 20 pounds - 30 seconds per pound)

Repeatedly coming out of the cold into the dry heat of your home can cause itchy, flaking skin. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as he comes inside, paying special attention to his feet and in-between the toes. Remove any snow balls from between his foot pads.

Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. If your dog is long-haired, simply trim him to minimize the clinging ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals that can dry his skin, and don’t neglect the hair between his toes. If your dog is short-haired, consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.

Bring a towel on long walks to clean off stinging, irritated paws. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals—and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes.

Bathe your pets as little as possible during cold spells. Washing too often can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If your pooch must be bathed, ask your vet to recommend a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse.

Massaging petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents. Booties provide even more coverage and can also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation. Use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible.

Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.

Pets burn extra energy by trying to stay warm in wintertime. Feeding your pet a little bit more during the cold weather months can provide much-needed calories, and making sure she has plenty of water to drink will help keep her well-hydrated and her skin less dry.

Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.

Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside. If left outdoors, pets can freeze, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed. In addition, don’t leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, as cars can act as refrigerators that hold in the cold and cause animals to freeze to death.

For strays and outside cats:

Whether you feed a colony or carry out Trap-Neuter-Return(TNR) in your community, consider these top moves to help outdoor cats as winter weather approaches:

  1. Provide a shelter. This will give cats somewhere to go to get away from snow, wind, and other elements. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to build your own. You can also get ideas for shelters to buy or make in our shelter gallery. Plus, we have tips about what makes a good shelter and what doesn’t.
  2. Insulate cat shelters with straw—not hay. Straw repels moisture, unlike hay. Cats can burrow into the straw to stay dry and warm. Be sure to keep adding straw throughout the season.
  3. Use aheated bowlfor cats’ water and wet food. This will prevent them from freezing. Or, try this hack from Alley Cat Allies staff: Use rubber containers meant for horses. These won’t crack like plastic containers when water freezes in them.
  4. Build afeeding station. This will protect cats’ food and water from wind and snow.
  5. Provide food and water daily. Wet food and water can freeze overnight, so you want to ensure cats have access to fresh food and water every day. Cats eat more in the winter because they’re trying to conserve energy and stay warm. Consider giving them extra food.
  6. Prepare for major snowstorms. In the event a major weather event like snow accumulation is in the forecast, give cats extra food and water in case you can’t get to the colony.
  7. Clear snow from the entrances of cats’ shelters after snowstorms so they don’t get snowed in.
  8. Don’t use salt or chemical melting products to clear snow. They can be lethal when licked off paws or ingested from melting puddles. They are also harmful to cats’ natural snowshoes—their paws!
  9. Keep antifreeze away from cats. Antifreeze is poison. Animals, including cats, find its taste irresistible. As little as a teaspoon of auto antifreeze spilled in your driveway can be fatal for a cat.
  10. Always check under the hood of your car for cats. Before you turn on your car engine, look under your car to make sure the coast is clear, and check to see that no cats have curled up in your engine during especially cold days. Give the hood a few taps to make sure a cat isn’t hiding there.

If you’re carrying out TNR in the winter, keep this in mind: If it’s too cold outside for you, then it’s probably too cold for cats to be in traps, exposed to the elements, for extended periods of time. Keep traps covered and secured in a temperature-controlled vehicle or building.