Keeping Your Pet Healthy in Winter

Whether it's curling up by the fire, brewing hot apple cider, or bundling up in a soft cashmere sweater, cold weather comforts help us through brisk autumn days and cold winter nights. Throw in flu season, too many parties, and the extra work of holiday preparations and it's a wonder we make it through the winter at all. Just as we have learned how to manage our time, take precautions to stay warm, and prevent and treat colds and flu, similar care is needed to ensure the comfort and health of our pets, too.

Fabulous Fur
Ever wondered about the terrier in the sweater vest or collie in a coat? Are these just silly ways pet owners express their individuality or do they really keep Spot warm? A cold-blooded pet like a snake or a tropical fish will vary with the temperature of the surroundings, which means you can simply turn up the heat. But dogs and cats, while they do have fur, are warm-blooded and not immune to temperature changes and may need an extra layer for warmth. And regardless of the season, animals need time outdoors. If you have outdoor pets, be extra careful to bring them in when it rains or snows. A wet bunny can get hypothermia and a frozen kitty is no good. If it's especially cold where you live, look to your pet to gauge comfort levels and plan time and dress accordingly. A few factors can determine how to dress your pet for winter play.

Shiver Me Timbers
If your pet is small and short-haired, he's likely sensitive to the cold. The same goes for older animals and those that may be frail or ill. You can't take your pet's temperature by touching her nose, but you can feel her body to see if she's shivering. Shivers mean sweaters - especially if you live in a cold climate (the short Southern California "winter" is not sweater weather). Larger and long-haired pets can usually tolerate colder weather for longer periods of time, and even though you might bundle up, your pet has a long, thick coat and is set for long winter walks. Just pay attention to walking over ice and snow: paws do get cold and sharp objects may be hiding under the powder.

Save My Skin!
When the bite of winter kicks in, many animals get dry skin. A few simple steps can help prevent and treat this condition: bathe as seldom as possible. Cats, of course, wash themselves. Brush your dog or cat to remove dead hair and dander. Try using a moisturizing shampoo made for pets (they have a different pH from humans, so don't even think about it!). Finally, eat right: quality food improves nutrition and promotes shiny, healthy fur. You may want to consult with your veterinarian about adding vitamins and fatty acids to Fido's food.

Brew a Stew
After a jaunt in the snow or splashing in puddles, be sure to dry your pet with towels or a hair dryer. Although she shakes excess water from her fur, Bella may still be damp. Treat her to warm water in winter, and make sure outdoor water bowls don't freeze. Try heating up a can of soup (chicken noodle is a doggy delight) and mixing in dry food (or wet) for a satisfying stew. You can also add vitamins and veggies.

Extra Holiday Tips
With all the decorations and festivities, watch for sneaky pets. Munching on decorations, gnawing on a Christmas tree branch, licking electrical cords, these are all interesting to pets and you must watch out for them. Don't let you pet drink from the tree water, be careful they don't nibble on the poinsettia, and make sure they don't run out when the guests come!

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