Cold weather is here. Snow and freezing rain are on the way. As we prepare for winter, take time to ensure outdoor pets are protected as well.

For outdoor dogs and cats, provide shelter from the weather. Dog houses need to be out of the wind and any cracks in the walls of the house need to be closed. Place bedding such as cedar chips or blankets in the shelter. Ensure the bedding stays dry. Change the bedding as warm weather comes so that fleas and ticks will not infest the house. Cats and dogs do well in pet carriers kept in a garage. Commercially available heating pads can provide additional warmth. The pad is placed under the carrier and plugs into an outlet.

During freezing weather, ensure that water bowels do not freeze. As always, provide free access to fresh water. The caloric intake of dogs and cats actually goes up in during cold weather; additional energy is needed to maintain body heat. However, keep track of your pet’s body weight. If they begin to gain weight, cut back on the food.

Outdoor dogs need to be kept in a fence during cold weather. If a dog roams, it can get lost. Out in the wild, there is little protection from the elements.

On the coldest of nights, a good practice is to bring outdoor dogs and cats into the house. Doing so will ensure they are protected from subzero wind chill, freezing rain and snow. Frost bite is not common in this part of the country but can occur especially with dangerous wind chill. If having a dog in the house is not an option, then bring them into a garage or outbuilding. Again, provide food and water for them.

For short haired dogs, a coat is always a good idea especially when going for walks on cold days. When using a coat, watch for a skin reaction to the fabric. Cotton is a good choice of fabric. Synthetic fabrics are more prone to cause a skin reaction. If the skin becomes red and itchy, it may be due to the coat.

Dogs can slip and injury themselves on ice. This can be especially painful with old arthritic dogs. Scrape walkways and provide a clear path and the places where defecation and urination occur. Salt to melt ice also works; however, commercially available salt can cause skin irritation to the paws. Look for pet friendly brands. After being on salted walkways, rinse the paws in warm water then dry thoroughly.

For dogs and cats caught out in freezing cold weather, hypothermia (low body temperature) can occur. Signs of hypothermia include constant shivering and mental depression. If you suspect hypothermia, check the rectal temperature. If less than normal (101 to 102) and clinical signs are present, begin warming therapy immediately. Wrap a blanket around the pet and rub them vigorously. Offer warm food warm water to drink. Apply an external heat source such as rice bags warmed in the microwave (place a towel over rice bag to protect the skin) or blankets warmed in a dryer. You can also fill a liter soda bottle with hot water and place next to pet. BE CAREFUL USING HEATING PADS. Get the pad warmed up to temperature on the high setting. Once on the pet, lower the setting to low or warm. If kept on high and placed on the dog or cat, a skin burn can occur.

Long haired dogs with lush, furry hair coats are usually have ample protection against the cold. However, if fur gets wet, a large amount of thermal protection is lost. An under coat as found in Chow Chows and arctic breeds (for example the Husky and Malamute) will confer protection but short haired dogs (for example Coon Hounds or Great Danes) will lose all thermal protection if their hair becomes wet.

Last but not least, do not allow dogs to roam onto frozen ponds or lakes. If a dog breaks through thin ice, the consequences could be fatal.

Outdoor dogs and cats can live well outdoors during the winter, but as you prepare for the coldest months, take time to ensure your pets are protected as well. Keep them dry, out of the wind and warm. They will love you for it!