Ideally, all pets would be allowed to live indoors with their owners and never have to worry about dealing with the elements. This however is not always the case. The following are some tips to consider when preparing your outdoor pets for the winter and summer seasons.

Winter

If temperatures drop below zero, pets should be brought indoors whenever possible. If this is not possible, be sure to provide adequate shelter with warm, clean bedding material such as blankets, straw or pine/cedar shavings. Be careful when using straw or shavings for dogs, as some dogs may have an allergic reaction to these materials. Blankets that can be laundered are probably best for dogs and cats. Use straw or shavings for horses, rabbits and other livestock. When providing a doghouse for your outdoor dog, it should not be too big. The recommended size is 1 ½ times longer than your dog and 1 ½ times taller. A smaller space is easier to keep warm with body heat. Refrain from using portable space heaters to heat a doghouse or barn, as they can be a fire hazard.

Some pets may require more food in the winter months, as they can actually burn more calories trying to stay warm. This is especially true with older animals. It is important to monitor your pet’s weight and increase their food as needed. Water dishes should be kept free of ice. Check water containers at least twice daily to make sure they are not frozen over. You may want to consider buying a heated water bowl if you live in an area where temperatures stay below freezing for long periods.

Make sure your pet’s paws and hooves stay free of ice and snow build-up. Longhaired breeds should have the hair on their feet trimmed to help prevent snow and ice from accumulating between their pads. Check your pet’s feet daily. Don’t let your pet’s coat become matted. A matted coat is not as effective at keeping your pet warm as one that is kept matt-free. A pet with arthritis or joint problems will suffer more in cold weather. If you notice your pet limping or moving more slowly than usual, ask your veterinarian about arthritis medications. Watch for signs of frostbite; especially on the toes, tips of the ears and tail. In the beginning stages of frostbite, the skin will be very pale and extremely cold to the touch. The skin will eventually become scaly, turn black and begin to slough off. Refrain from rubbing the area, as this can cause more damage. The other common disorder to watch for in cold weather is hypothermia. Symptoms include shivering, lethargy, muscle stiffness, lack of coordination, slow breathing and collapse. If you suspect your pet is suffering from frostbite or hypothermia, move them to a warm area and seek immediate veterinary care.

Be sure to keep your pets away from harmful products such as anti-freeze and rock salt. Anti-freeze is extremely poisonous to dogs and cats and a little bit can kill them. If you see your pet ingesting antifreeze, get them to the vet immediately. Rock salt can burn your pet’s paws, so if they walk through it, wash their paws with warm, soapy water immediately.
Remember, if you have outdoor cats, they may crawl under the hood of your car to draw heat from the engine. Make it a habit to pound on the hood of the car and honk the horn before starting the car to scare the cat away.

Summer

Shelter is an important consideration in the hot summer months. Your pet should be provided with plenty of shade. Make sure that there are shady areas for your pet at all times of the day. If you have a dog that likes the water, consider buying a plastic baby pool for them to play in to cool off. However, if you have a swimming pool for humans on your property it should be fenced off to prevent your dog from accidentally falling in and drowning. If it is not possible to keep your dog away from the pool, teach him how to get out of the pool. Do this by taking him into the pool and showing him where the steps are or consider installing a pet ramp as well as a pool alarm (available at many retailers). Every year, family pets die in swimming pools but with the proper measures, this need not be the case. For more information on pet safety around water, visit http://www.banfield.net/r/swimming-safety-tips.

Provide your pets with plenty of fresh water in the summer. You may want to put out extra water containers during the hottest months. Check the water containers at least twice a day to make sure they have clean water in them. It’s important to replenish the bowls with fresh water at least every day and preferably whenever they become filled with debris. This will help eliminate mosquitoes. Your pets may eat less in the summer, so adjust their food intake accordingly.

It is important to keep your pet well groomed in the summer. When the weather begins to get warm, your pet will start shedding its winter coat. Daily brushing is important at this time. Many people decide to have their long-coated dogs and cats shaved down for the summer. Keep in mind that like humans, pets are susceptible to sunburn. If your pet will be out in the sun for extended periods, apply sunscreen to the tips of the ears, the nose, and any areas of the body where the skin shows through the coat. Dogs and cats should be on some sort of flea and tick prevention during the warm weather months (year-round in some areas).

Activity should be limited on very hot days. If your pet becomes overheated, they may suffer from hyperthermia, more commonly referred to as heatstroke. Symptoms of heatstroke include rapid panting, bright red tongue, pale gums, weakness, dizziness and vomiting. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, wet them down with cool water. Do not use very cold water. Do not try to force them to drink. Seek immediate veterinary care. Severe heatstroke can be life threatening.

A final word about leaving your pet in the car… DON’T DO IT! Even if the outside temperature doesn’t feel that hot, the sun shining through the windows of a car can heat the inside temperature very rapidly, even with the windows cracked and on cloudy days.

Conclusion

If you have outdoor pets bottom line is, use common sense when dealing with harsh elements. Put yourself in your pet’s place. Whatever your needs and wants would be in these conditions apply to your pets.

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