Pet care: Keeping your pets warm, safe and healthy in the winter

Published on Wed, Jan 22, 2014 by Quinn Welsch

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Whether they are indoors or outdoors, the winter can take a toll on your four-legged friends, so keeping pets warm, safe and healthy requires a little extra care from pet owners. Dr. Kim Johner of Northwest Veterinary Clinic in Birch Bay has some great tips on how to care for pets and keep them at their happiest during the winter months.

Staying dry and warm

One of the most common issues pets deal with during winter in the Northwest is wet weather, Johner said, which can have 
unwelcome impacts on furry companions. Pets that are exposed to rain, snow and ice and not properly cared for afterward are susceptible to a myriad of infections. “We see a lot of ears that have gotten infected and a lot of dermatitis of the feet,” he said. 

Common symptoms for ear and skin infections include headshaking and licking infected areas, Johner said. Another telltale sign of an infection is a noticeable odor. 

The best way to prevent an animal from getting infections in the first place is to dry them off thoroughly after coming inside and to wash their ears with ear cleaner, Johner said. 

Snow and ice can also become matted around dogs’ and cats’ toes and can cause bruising on their skin if not cared for. It can be a lot like walking barefoot on the beach. “It’s like walking on little stones,” he said. “If they’re going to be in the snow, the hair on their paws should be trimmed short.”

Salt pellets on roads and sidewalks can also become wedged between the pads of animals’ toes. The Humane Society of the United States recommends going for shorter trips when walking your dog and avoiding salted roads.

Bundling up for the cold

When you are taking your pet for a walk, a jacket can also help keep them warm – especially those pets with thinner and shorter coats. Water-resistant material and fleece jackets for dogs are especially beneficial, said Johner, who originally practiced in the much colder North Dakota winters. 

“A really short-haired dog is going to be cold even at 35 [degrees],” Johner said. “It depends on the breed and the fur coat.”

Adding extra bedding or straw in outdoor shelters helps protect pets from the elements. The Humane Society recommends pet owners make sure animal shelters face away from the wind and that they are small enough to retain heat, but large enough to let pets sit or lie comfortably. Laying blankets inside the shelter and adding insulation is also helpful. 

The Humane Society recommends keeping animals indoors during the colder months and supervising them when they are outside.

Winter laziness

An animal’s winter diet is an issue that is frequently overlooked by pet owners, Johner said. Because it requires more energy to stay warm, outdoor animals require additional water and food. If the animal is fed outside, owners should avoid metal dishes to avoid tongues sticking.

Feeding indoor pets normally without adjusting their activity can lead to obesity. Owners should adjust the amount of food according to the animal’s activity, Johner said.

“People are less active, pets are less active,” Johner said of the winter months. “But they’re not feeding them less.”

Cats in particular are prone to winter laziness. The reduced humidity caused by furnaces may lead to bladder infections in cats who lounge inside all day.

“Overall, we’re losing moisture. We need water to digest food,” Johner said. “Cats don’t drink enough as it is.”

Vehicle safety

Outdoors, cats are also notorious for resting in and around vehicles. They will often lie under vehicle hoods and tires to cuddle up to a warm engine and get out of the wind. The Humane Society recommends pet owners give their vehicle a good bang on the hood before starting their engine to ensure that no animals are sleeping underneath it. 

Vehicle owners should make sure that antifreeze is stored where animals can’t reach it and that spills are cleaned up promptly, as the fluid’s sweet smell can attract pets, wildlife and children. It only takes a few tablespoons of the fluid to endanger an animal’s life, according the Humane Society. The organization recommends that pet owners switch to antifreeze that contains propylene glycol, which is less toxic than ethylene glycol antifreeze.

If a pet has ingested antifreeze, warning signs may begin up to 30 minutes afterward and include lethargy and disorientation. The second phase of antifreeze poisoning may include vomiting, kidney failure, coma and death. The longer an animal remains untreated for antifreeze poisoning, the less likely they are to recover. 

For more information on pet care during the winter, visit  If you notice animal abuse or neglect, contact Whatcom Humane Society at 360/733-2080.