Pet column: Time to winterize pets and habitats

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Our pets have fur coats, but they are at risk for hypothermia just like their human companions. Provide shelter out of the wind and keep pets and pet areas dry. Short hair, single coated pets are especially at risk. A good grooming helps stimulate the growth of a thick winter coat. Make sure new winter coats are not hiding summer scrapes which need help to heal. If pets are aging, now is a good time to check in with the veterinarian to discover any needed comfort changes. Winter heating pads for dogs and cats, protective gear like vests and paw boots might be in order to make the colder days and nights bearable. Stock up on pet safe ice melt and antifreeze. Keep pets trim by reducing calories when daily hikes are replaced by quickie morning and evening walks. Look for soft fetch toys designed to harmlessly bounce off indoor furnishings when it’s too dark to play outside.

Here’s a winter weather checklist:

1. Water bowls freeze. Check and freshen twice a day. Indoor access to food and water is the best plan. Install a dog or cat door. Monitor the temperature of outdoor pet enclosures or garages to prevent hypothermia and freezing to death.

2. Watch for antifreeze leaks. One sweet-tasting drop can kill pets or wildlife. Select only pet-friendly brands such as Sierra. Use pet-friendly ice melt as well. Both pets and wildlife can get burns or be poisoned from licking paw pads.

3. Leave pets home on errand day. Dogs left outside stores risk theft, abuse, and fear biting, along with hypothermia from wet and cold. If you must, transport inside the vehicle or in covered carriers, never in the wind or on a metal truck bed.

4. When there’s snow and ice, check paws daily. Sled dogs wear boots to protect from cuts and cracks. You can buy rubber, synthetic, or leather dog boots from catalogs and pet supply stores. Ask your veterinarian about pad-toughening ointments. Avoid patches of snow melt.

5. Get birds out of any draft. Winterize windows. Consider a generator to provide emergency heat for sensitive avians and exotics. Remove birds immediately if chimney smoke gets into their room. It can kill them.

6. Think ahead and secure the right equipment to maintain the proper environment for reptiles. Make sure Nemo’s aquarium stays the right temperature. A generator back up can be critical. Provide dry ground, wind-free shelter, and dry food storage for horses.

7. Survey your yard now for snow buildup areas at fences. Move wood piles away from the fence to prevent escapes later. Create a snow moat to keep pets in the middle of the yard.

8. Practice pounding the hood before starting the engine. Small wild and domestic animals seek shelter and warmth and like to sleep near engine heat.

9. Increase or decrease diet calories to suit your pet’s age and winter exercise routine. Create indoor play by learning dog dancing, teaching tricks, and other interactive games. For dogs over 30 pounds, try Skijoring or snow running.

10. Plan ahead for travel. Make sure a personal pet ID tag is on and up to date. Consider micro chipping. Reserve boarding or pet friendly housing before you leave home. Most kennels are booked ahead for the holidays.

Some science suggests that diminished winter light can bring on seizures or Seasonal Affected Disorder in both animals and people, caused by a decrease in serotonin in the brain and blood. Proper nutrition as well as periods of exposure to sunlight help ease depression and maintain general health and fitness.

— Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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