We winterize our cars, houses, children. What about our best friends — our pets?
Dogs and cats survive the ages not worrying about blizzards and icy winds. They let us do the worrying, and often, we worry too much. It may seem cruel, but our pets’ need for outdoor exercise does not decline on bad-weather days. It remains critical to their health. Ours too.
Survival is one thing, but health and comfort are another. Betcha never thought about this:
1. DIETARY DISASTER
Take your own diet as an example. We pork up in winter, often as much as 10 percent of body weight. That other potato on the couch is Fido.
And, as with us, pets get less exercise, no squirrels or rabbits to chase and walks tend to be brief. The winter weight gain for our pets is as real as it is for us.
You can knock it down by simply limiting the treats. As with humans, snacks often are high in fat, even the artificial bacon. You can wean your pet off excessive treating by cutting down the portion sizes. If Fido gets a treat for being a good boy outside, he will still expect it. He won’t notice it’s half size.
If your pet already is obese, it’s really time to cut back. Check out high-protein, low calorie pet foods. As with us, the carbohydrates and fats will really pile on the winter weight. Main source of the problem: Feeding scraps from the table.
2. STRAINS AND PAINS
We’re tempted to cut back on walks on bad days. A better scheme is to make the walks shorter but more frequent, but be careful. Dogs can suffer the same muscle sprains as we do, slipping on ice. They face danger from sharp ice that can wound paws.
Stay off pavements treated with ice melters such as salt. The chemicals create a heat sensation as they inflame paws. You may see your dog jumping around to stop it. Keep a bucket of water and a wash cloth handy in the mud room to clean paws after walks. Hunters use a wax-based product to protect their dogs’ paws. These are available in some pet stores and may be worth a try.
If your dog suddenly stops on his walk and chews at his paw, check it for ice between the toes. This causes intense pain.
Your dog will tell you when he’s had enough outside. As with us, they shiver when overly cold. They may simply stop in their tracks. That means, “Let’s go home.”
Cold air dehydrates pets. Be sure to have ample fresh water available when you return.
3. THE FASHION SHOW
It’s hard to resist the temptations of the pet sweater, perhaps until you check the price. Remember, cute fashions are for you. Your pet could care less and probably prefers his natural state. Some pet clothing is so restrictive, it makes walking difficult and running impossible.
Our pets have a finely honed immune system for cold. Long hairs certainly don’t need clothing. Small, short hairs may benefit somewhat, although cutting back on outdoors time is just as effective and less embarrassing for your pet.
4. AAH, WARMTH
Your pet automatically seeks the warmest place in your house. That’s a radiator or furnace register. Long periods of sleeping while hot air blows over fur dries up its oils and can cause itching, dandruff and eczema-type rashes. Don’t put pet beds near heat sources.
You can fight dull hair by feeding your pet an egg a week. Eggs help restore the natural oils. The English add beer hops to meals. The oil lubricates hair follicles. Dried hops for pets are available at pet-supply stores.
5. WHERE DID HE GO?
Be very, very careful about allowing pets to run loose in winter. Dogs and cats use landmarks close to the ground to find their way home, such as bushes and driveways. When reference points are covered with snow, pets can lose their way. Don’t assume yours will return. Make the effort to stay with him outdoors and be sure he wears a tag with your phone number on it.
P.S.: But have fun outside. Shovel a maze in the snow in your back yard, leading to Fido’s preferred bathroom spot. He’ll love it, even ask to go outside on poor days.
Chasing snowballs. Now that’s a riot. Digging up favorite toys in snow drifts. Treasure hunt! Helping roll up the snowman. And simply tasting snow and smelling that pure, pristine air. These are the joys of winter making it all worthwhile, until the next blizzard