Ohio winters can be unpredictable, to say the least. And during these long, cold months, our pets require extra care to ensure their health, safety, and comfort. Keep your pet feeling warm and wonderful when the cold winds blow with this winter preparation guide from the Westerville Veterinary Clinic team.

Provide your pet with adequate shelter indoors and outdoors

Although an indoor environment is the safest place for your pet, we understand many pets enjoy spending time outdoors—especially Northern breed dogs and those with thick double coats. If your pet spends any time outside, ensure they have access to a warm and dry shelter where they can escape the wind and wet ground. This space should be well-insulated to protect them from the elements and contain extra bedding for comfort and warmth. 

Monitor your pet’s outdoor activities during extreme cold 

While many pets can tolerate a slight dip in temperatures, extreme cold is a threat to all creatures. Limit your pet’s time outdoors during extremely cold weather and supervise them when they are outside. Like humans, pets can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia. Keep walks short and consider investing in pet-friendly winter gear, such as coats and boots.

Know your pet’s limits 

If you must exercise your pet outdoors, monitor their behavior for signs of discomfort. Like people, pets tolerate cold differently, so always be prepared to shorten your walk or activity. Hypothermia signs from mild to severe include:

  • Shivering or shaking
  • Limping or holding up one paw
  • Refusing to move
  • Lethargy
  • Stiffness
  • Pale gums
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Enlarged pupils

Cold pets should be taken indoors as quickly as possible and wrapped in warm towels or blankets. If your pet is experiencing severe signs, immediately contact Westerville Veterinary Clinic for rewarming guidance.

Adjust your pet’s diet to address changing energy needs

Dogs and cats burn more calories in cold weather to stay warm. However, indoor pets who are less active during the winter months may have reduced caloric requirements. Your veterinarian can help you review your pet’s daily energy needs and lifestyle to determine whether to adjust their meal portions. 

Help your pet stay hydrated

Dehydration can still occur in winter, especially if your pet is active outdoors or if your indoor air is especially dry. Check and refill your pet’s water bowls as needed and remove any ice from outdoor bowls. Increase your pet’s water intake by soaking their food in warm water or low-sodium broth or purchasing a pet water fountain. 

Keep your pet groomed 

Regular grooming does more than help your pet look clean and cute. Regular brushing, bathing, and trimming increase your pet’s comfort and warmth by keeping their skin and coat hydrated, nourished, and free from painful mats. These basic measures are the best way to ensure a dog’s coat provides maximum insulation and warmth. While long-coated dogs may only require a bath and brush, trimming the hair around their paws and lower legs can help prevent ice buildup.

Keep antifreeze and other pet toxins out of reach

Most antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, a sweet, odorless, but deadly compound that is toxic to dogs and cats. Just a few sips can lead to rapid and irreversible kidney failure in as little as 24 minutes to 72 hours after ingestion. Protect your pet by immediately cleaning up any spills, securely storing bottles, or only purchasing pet-safe antifreeze. 

Protect your pet’s paws from snow, ice, and salt

Although pets have remarkably tough paw pads, they’re no match for winter’s harsh elements—including rough ice, cold snow, and de-icing chemicals and salt. Protect your pet’s precious paws by using pet-safe de-icers on your property and thoroughly wiping and drying their paws after outdoor activities. Additional measures include using dog boots or applying protective paw waxes or balms. Inspect your pet’s paws—including the areas between their toes—for redness, odor, or persistent wetness, which could signal irritation and infection.

Monitor your pet’s health and know when to seek veterinary care

Cold weather can worsen some pet health conditions (e.g., arthritis), while others (e.g., heart or kidney disease and certain endocrine disorders) can make pets more susceptible to hypothermia. Be attentive to any changes in your pet’s behavior, appetite, or energy level, and contact your veterinarian if you notice anything unusual.

Fight the winter blues with fun indoor pet activities 

Decreased physical activity can cause boredom-related stress in pets, which can lead to serious health or behavior issues. When you can’t get outside, give your pet an indoor-friendly outlet for their energy such as:

  • Food-dispensing puzzle toys
  • Snuffle mats 
  • Lick mats for wet food
  • Food-stuffed toys (e.g., Kong, WestPaw Toppl)
  • Trick training
  • Indoor obstacle courses

Always supervise your pet with new toys to ensure safe play. Prevent weight gain by using your pet’s regular kibble or wet food to fill food toys.

As we plunge into another Ohio winter, a few extra preparatory steps and considerations can ensure your pet stays warm, well, and wonderfully satisfied no matter what’s going on outside.  For additional insights on how to increase your pet’s winter wellbeing, contact the Westerville Veterinary Clinic team.