Indoor dogs and cats are certainly sheltered and warm during the cold months of the year. However, a cozy warm environment is no guarantee that medical problems will not occur.

When a house is heated, the relative humidity indoors typically drops. This is especially true with gas heating and/or wood burning stoves. As the humidity inside the house drops, certain medical problems can occur.

  1. Low relative humidity will cause the mucus membranes of the respiratory tract to dry. This predisposes dogs to upper respiratory problems, typically coughing. If exposed to contagious respiratory disease, such as kennel cough (tracheobronchitis), a dog is much more likely to develop a cough. To prevent a cold season cough, monitor the relative humidity in the house. If low, use a humidifier to increase the relative humidity to a healthy level. Equally important, vaccinate for kennel cough. The intranasal form of Bordetella bronchiseptica is most commonly used. You never know what contagion might be lurking at the dog park, at the groomers or even just down the street.
  2. A low relative humidity can dry out the skin leading to cold season skin problems. Monitor dogs cats for dry, itchy and flaky skin. Ensure fleas are not the problem! These pesky parasites will proliferate indoors during the winter months. If you find even a single flea on your dog or cat, you have an infestation in the house. The solution to this problem is to use flea control year round. Moisturizing shampoos can be beneficial for dry flaky skin as well as omega 3 fatty acid dietary supplements. If necessary, medicines to control itching may also be needed. Certain skin and blood tests may also be needed to determine if an underlying metabolic problem may be causing or contributing to a skin problem. Thyroid and adrenal gland dysfunction can lead to skin problems. Your veterinarian will discuss these tests if needed.
  3. Who wants to walk and play when the weather is cold and rainy? Indoor pets may not get the exercise they normally get during the warmer seasons. Monitor your pet’s weight on a weekly basis. If gaining weight, cut back on the caloric intake. The body does not “waste” or excrete energy. Excessive energy (carbohydrate) intake is converted to fat for energy storage. This leads to obesity and the medical problems associated with carrying too much weight. You can engage your dog or cat in indoor play such as chasing a ball or even a laser light. However, hardwood and tile floors are typically very slick. A slip or tumble while playing can injure a joint and lead to pain and lameness.
  4. When the outside temperature is too cold for you to walk without a heavy coat, you can bet a thin fur coat will not provide the insulation to keep a small dog warm. Do not allow these little guys and girls to get cold on a walk! Get these little ones a coat to wear. Long haired dogs with a thick undercoat should not have much of a problem with cold weather; they are made for it.

If you suspect your pet has a problem, seek veterinary care. We all love to feed and watch our pets eat but do not allow a dog or cat to pack on the pounds during the winter. Try and exercise your furry family member as much as possible during the cold season but take care to keep them warm. If you have an itchy dog during the cold season, ensure fleas are not the problem. If dry flaky skin becomes a problem, seek veterinary care.

There is nothing so comforting as a four legged lap warmer to keep one company during the winter. Keep them healthy.