“Old man winter is on the prowl….every time I open my door, sleet, snow, and wind rush in. I crawl under the cover and hide my head….like Rip Van Winkle, I want to hibernate and stay in bed. Even the dogs curl up in their blankets to stay as warm as toast. Furnaces running, water pipes freezing, and big gas bills, too. Old Man Winter has my nose; I’m cold from the top of my head, down to my toes. The dogs and I are going to bed to wait for the weather report for tomorrow, hoping that winter will soon be a thing of the past.” (Author Unknown)

It is quite probable that winter will continue to hold us within her icy grip for quite a while yet, and pet caregivers are encouraged to take precautions to keep their animals safe and healthy. As temperatures drop, the last place a dog should be is outside in the bitter cold. Yet, as we look around our neighborhoods, we see them: dogs tethered with restricted movement, living in overturned barrels, and plywood boards propped up against a wall, all inadequate. Sadly this is where millions of dogs live—all day, every day. When it rains, they’re out there…when it’s zero degrees with howling winds blowing fiercely, they’re out there. When a big snow comes, and their humans are cozy inside, these dogs are still out there, shivering. Keep an eye out for dogs suffering in the cold….some caregivers don’t seem to realize the dangers their dog is facing, and ignorance is curable by education….perhaps a friendly chat will encourage the shivering dog’s caregiver to make some adjustments. However, if the friendly approach does not work, notify the authorities. It is the law that animals be provided ADEQUATE shelter, fresh water (not ice!) and fresh food. Document the situation, giving specific details. Avoid being belligerent or accusatory, but be persistent. A dog’s life may depend on your intervention. If the situation does not improve, report again…and again…and again.

Responsible pet caregivers realize that winter is a time of potential hazards for their companion animals. Here are a few suggestions to help you keep your pet safe and healthy this winter:

  • Dogs are social animals who crave human companionship, and the very best place for your dog in winter (actually anytime!) is in your house. If you simply do not want her in the main part of the home, make a cozy bed in the laundry room or hall where she can be kept warm, dry and away from drafts. Bored dogs can wreak havoc, so it is important to find ways to provide her with both mental and physical exercise, with regular short trips outdoors for business.
  • Winter is the time of year when house fires are more likely to occur. Monitor wood stoves, space heaters, and other heating sources to protect pets from being burned. Make sure your smoke detectors have active batteries, and include your pets when you develop a house fire evacuation plan.
  • Place Fire Stickers on your doors and windows, You can buy commercial stickers (like these: http://a.co/4yxmcOs), or make your own: Just write “ATTENTION—PETS INSIDE”….you may also want to indicate the number and type of pets, such as “2 cats and 1 dog.”
  • Antifreeze and coolant are lethal to dogs. Remember to clean up and spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
  • Always keep your dog on a leash. During a snowstorm, dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost…(Be sure to keep your dog’s ID tags updated, just in case)
  • Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your dog’s feet. Wipe the feet with a damp towel before he licks them and risks irritation to his mouth. And consider buying pet safe salt melt to protect sensitive pads.
  • During the winter, many outdoor cats sleep under the hoods of cars for warmth and protection. Tap on the hood of your care before starting up the engine, to avoid any injury when the motor starts.

Just like any other season, winter brings challenges to your dog, but with your common sense, patience, and a little creativity, your four-legged friend can enjoy the winter, safely and happily. As Percy Bysshe Shelley said, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind!”