Winter Safety Tips
Whether you have a dog, cat or even if you care for an outdoor cat colony the following tips can help protect them during the winter months.
1. Know your dog’s limits! Some dogs are more susceptible to the cold than others. Short-coated, thin, elderly, or very young dogs get cold more quickly – so adjust the amount of time they stay outside! If your dog enjoys being outdoors and you will be outside longer than a few minutes, consider outfitting it with a sweater or coat to keep it warm. Hypothermia and frostbite pose major risks to dogs in winter, so remember, if it is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your dog!
2. Check the hood! Cats often sleep in the wheel wells, and sometimes even under the hood in the engine area of cars during the winter months to keep warm. If you start your car and a cat is sleeping on your tire, it can be severely hurt or even killed by moving engine parts. Prevent injuries by banging loudly on your hood or honking the horn before starting your car. This will wake up the cat and give it a chance to escape before starting the car.
3. Wipe their paws! During winter walks, your dog’s paws can pick up all kinds of toxic chemicals – salt, antifreeze, or de-icers. Be sure to wipe off your dog’s paws when you return from walks to prevent him from licking it off and becoming sick. Purchase pet-safe de-icers for your home for an extra level of safety. In Kodiak, both WalMart & Kodiak Pet Supply carry de-icers that are safe for your pet's paws. When wiping off your dog’s paws, remember to also check for signs of injury, such as cracked or bleeding paws.
4. Keep them leashed! More pets become lost in the winter than any other season because snowfall can disguise recognizable scents that would normally help them find their way home. Prevent your pets from becoming lost by keeping dogs leashed on walks and, just in case you are separated from your pets, make sure their collars have up-to-date contact information and they are microchipped.
5. Avoid the ice! When walking your dog, be sure to avoid frozen lakes and ponds. Your dog could be seriously hurt or even killed if the ice breaks.
6. Leave them home! In Kodiak we love to take our dogs with us everywhere! Doesn't matter if it's to go out the road or even just a quick trip to Safeway. But just as hot cars are dangerous for pets in the summer, cold cars pose a threat as well! Only take your pets in the car if it is necessary.
7. Be seen! Due to Daylight Savings, many of us are relegated to walking our dogs in the dark. Keep yourself and your dog are safe by wearing reflective gear (clothing, leash, collar, etc) and keeping your dog close when walking on the street.
8. Give them shelter! Ideally, all pets should live inside. If your pets live outdoors primarily, bring them indoors during sub-zero temperatures. For the rest of the winter, provide them with a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow them to sit and lay down comfortably, but small enough to conserve body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. Turn the shelter so it faces away from the wind and cover the doorway with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. Also, pets who spend a lot of time outside need more food to replace energy lost from trying to stay warm. Use plastic food and water dishes instead of metal – when the temperature is low enough, your pets’ tongue can become stuck to metal.
9. Avoid spills! Antifreeze attracts cats and dogs because it is very sweet to taste, but it is extremely poisonous and can cause serious illness or death when ingested. Be sure to clean up any antifreeze that spills in your garage, and keep the bottle somewhere your pets cannot access.
10. Be prepared! Although we are used to mild winters in Kodiak, that is not always the case. Winter can bring extreme weather that can cause power outages. Have an emergency plan and make sure they include your pets! Have an emergency kit with enough food, water, and medication to last your pets at least five days. Most likely you will never need it, but if you do, you will be thankful you planned ahead!
How to Keep a Cat Warm Outside in the Winter
Long exposure to freezing temperatures can be dangerous, even for cats. You can help outdoor cats survive the winter by providing heated food and water alongside a dry, warm shelter that's safe from the elements.
Cats' normal body temperatures can range from 99.5°F to 102.5°F, but what they need to stay warm varies depending on their weight and fur. Healthy cats may be OK until temperatures get to freezing, but you might want to step in and help a little sooner than that. Meanwhile, kittens and elderly cats could be endangered when it's 45°F at night. And of course, the rainier or snowier it gets, the worse it is for our outdoor furry friends.
The first thing you'll want to do is provide dry, warm shelters for outdoor cats. These shelters should ideally be placed in a covered area, like on a porch or in a carport, and not where they'll potentially get soaked by standing water. Dry, enclosed shelters give cats a place to escape the rain, snow, and cold winds.
The easiest solution is to buy a heated, water-resistant shelter made especially for cats. Look for shelters with heated beds designed to warm up to the cat's normal body temperature. This makes sure the cats stay toasty warm when it's really cold outside. These shelters should have easy exits in case a quick escape is needed. The exits should be just large enough to fit one cat at a time so bigger animals don't move in and take over. There are also several DIY cat shelters that are inexpensive to make that your outside cat is sure to appreciate.
If you are sheltering feral cats, keep the shelters away from areas with a lot of foot traffic. If you can, try to put the shelters on a raised area that's a couple inches off the ground, so it's away from rain, snow, and insects.
If you're building your own shelter, look for insulation like straw that repels water. (Hay, in contrast, can soak up moisture and get moldy.) But if you want to make sure you get everything just right, invest in a heated outdoor bed.
In the winter, cats use more calories to stay warm and hunting for prey can be tougher. They'll need a little extra help from you. Try putting out slightly warmed canned food a couple times a day, while also providing plenty of dry kibble that won't freeze.
You'll also want to provide plenty of fresh water in an area that's ideally protected from wind and rain. Check it at least twice a day to make sure it's not frozen. Better yet, consider setting out heated food and water bowls. These can give you peace of mind that stray cats have fresh food and water that's not frozen, even during the cold winter nights.
Consider putting your food and water station in an area that's quieter and either covered or on an incline so rain water and snow can drain away.
Remember: cats that are more feral might not approach your food and water while you're around. You might want to step away and watch from a distance if you're wanting to make sure the kitties are getting the food. For a little extra fun, set up an outdoor camera with a wireless connection that you can watch even when you're indoors.
Do you have cats who spend part of their time outdoors? During the winter, you might just want to bring them inside rather than debating if it's too cold. If you provide cat trees and scratchers, windows to look out from, and play with your cats a lot, they won't get bored while they're indoors.