Winter Wonderland, Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, Let It Snow- Let It Snow – Let It Snow. Wonderful songs that give the impression of fun, warmth, good food, companionship. We may hum along or even exercise our vocal ability. Let the good times roll.
We winterize our cars, our cabins, our homes, our gardens, and our wardrobes. We have the furnace inspected. We dig out warm clothes and make sure to dry out mittens, hats, and coats after use. It isn’t hard to remember what it’s like to put on wet mittens or boots and then stay warm outside. It just won’t happen. We get so cold our teeth may chatter and our body shivers.
We have options and choices. Our pets do not. Cold weather is a reality and it’s not going to get a whole lot warmer any time soon.
Pets may have a difficult time surviving during Minnesota winters without our care. Care isn’t just checking on them once or twice a day to see if they are OK. Do they have extra food? Do they have drinkable water at all times? Does their shelter provide a warm dry place to sleep? Is the coat groomed to help insulate them against the cold?
Is the shelter high enough so thawing ice and snow don’t blow in?
- Heated water bowl – heated bowls come in a couple of sizes. For large dogs, use a horse heated water bucket. If your pet has a tendency to tip over the bucket, snap it to the kennel fence or set it in a tire. Change the water regularly as water that sits will get stale. These bowls and buckets are reasonably priced and will last more than one season. Just make sure it doesn’t run dry. That could be hard on the element. They really do work. Even in the coldest of temperatures, the water will not freeze. The cord of the heated buckets and dishes are wrapped in wire for protection.
Frozen water and snow do not provide adequate amounts of water for your pet. Yes, they may eat it or lick it. However, it would be extremely hard for them to consume enough ice or snow to meet their needs.
- Heated bed/mat – there are soft and hard heated beds and mats. Heated mats will provide consistent comfort for your pet. The hard mats work OK. For older dogs that spend winters outside, soft heated mats can be more comfortable on old joints and bones. Mats – both hard surface and soft surface - come in various sizes. The mats last more than one season. For additional comfort, make sure your pet has a place to lay off the matt as well. On warmer days, your pet may not require as much warmth to stay comfortable.
- Heat lamps – consider using heat lamps for the outdoor cats. They will curl up under it and be very comfortable. One heat bulb will usually last all winter and sometimes into the next season as well. Power outages or bumping the heat lamp can cause them to burn out. Once they are positioned, try not to mess with them too much.
- Provide clean, dry bedding. Check to make sure the bedding stays dry. Your pets’ fur can bring moisture into the bed and after a period of time the bedding can become damp. Your pet will have a very difficult time staying warm in a wet bed.
Idea: Take an old sheet and sew it on two sides so it will resemble a large
pillowcase. Fill it with pine shavings and secure the open end. Put this in the doghouse or sleeping area. Flip it over every couple of weeks so it stays fluffed. When a new bedding is needed, just empty the old shavings and refill with new. Cats like it too.
- Provide a good quality & quantity of food – increase the quantity of food during cold weather. Pets will burn more calories staying warm. Keep food fresh.
- Provide protection from the elements (wind, sleet, rain, snow etc). Here again, common sense rules. Look at the places your pets will stay during the winter. Are they adequate? Will they protect your pet from the harsh weather?
- Doghouses need to be raised off the ground to provide an air space between the floor of the doghouse and the frozen ground. Provide a flap on the door to keep out drafts & cold. A flap will hold the heat in as well. Does your dog prefer to sit or lay on top of the doghouse rather than in it? It’s OK. That doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t need the doghouse to stay warm. Perhaps your dog doesn’t require as much protection as another dog; however, they still need to be able to get in out of the cold.
- Doghouses shouldn’t be too big or too small. It should provide your pet with enough room to enter, turn around, and rest comfortably. If the house is too big, it requires too much body heat to keep it warm. If the house is too small, your pet may not be able to get into it easily therefore may not go in it at all. A house too big or too small - for our pet it is just as uncomfortable as our having to wear boots way too big or way too small.
- While we are on the subject of doghouses, is your dog in a kennel? Is the kennel clean? I don’t mean scrubbed. I do mean without a lot of feces. Is there adequate windbreak or is your dog exposed to the elements? A dog in a kennel is a prisoner of that space. Kennels are good. However, check it often to make sure your dog is comfortable.
- Cats will frequently crawl up under cars and get near the engine for heat. Starting your engine can injure or kill a cat. Honk your horn or slap on the hood to scare it out of this warm place.
- If you are thinking of adopting a puppy, be mindful that puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs. If your puppy is a house dog, it could be harder to potty train them. Going out in the cold just isn’t very appealing. If you want your puppy to go potty outside, go with them. They may go out the door only to turn around and wait to get back in. Duty has not been done and will probably happen when they get back inside. Consider paper training if you don’t want to go outside with your pet.
- Our barn cats don’t want to go outside in the winter. They started using different areas in the barn as litter areas. So, last winter we dump either ½ or 1 bag of pine shavings in a certain out of the way area. The cats use that in the winter. It’s easy to scoop into a wheelbarrow, dump out, and replace with fresh shavings. The shavings are reasonable priced and it does the trick.
In addition to dogs and cats, don’t forget cold weather protection for horses, bunnies, ferrets, etc. Your pets, your responsibility. Living creatures do not thrive on neglect. Winter is unforgiving.