Winter & Holiday Planning for You and Your Pet
Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM
Winter Pet Care
As the mercury drops and the winter chill settles in, it's important to keep your pets comfortable through the winter months. Much of the advice for cold weather pet care is common sense, like making sure your pets have a warm, safe and dry place to rest if they are outdoors or a comfortable place away from drafts if they are indoors. However, it never hurts to review cold weather tips again since last winter was a long time ago.
Fur Coat Care
Winter coat care is important for your furry friends. They depend on you to help keep their coat clean and mat-free so they can stay warm and comfortable. Even kitties that are fastidious about cleaning their own coat need to be brushed regularly and checked for matted fur.
Clean fur fluffs and holds air, similar to layering clothes, which will help your dog or cat stay warm. Matted fur pulls on the skin and can cause discomfort and irritate skin. If mats are left long enough, sores can develop and become infected. Regular brushing is essential, especially as your pet's winter coat grows in. Make sure you find the right brush for your pet.
As the heat kicks on in your home the air gets drier. Regular brushing encourages the distribution of natural oils in your pet's skin and coat. Along with that, supplementing with essential fatty acids and a daily multi-vitamin can help nourish the skin and coat, making it easier to care for and healthier.
If your pet’s own fur coat is not sufficient to keep them warm, get a cozy dog jacket so they can still enjoy the great outdoors during the winter months. Year round walks are an essential part of your pet’s daily routine for exercise and mental health. In rainy climates, a light weight rain coat for dogs lets them enjoy their walks without getting soaked.
Like the built-in fur coat, your pet’s paws may need a bit of extra care during winter months. Dogs, especially, become susceptible to dry pads with frequent trips out onto the cold, wet ground and then back into the heated house.
Paw balm can be essential during the winter months. There are two types to help you dog: protectant paw balm and soothing paw balm. Protectant paw balms, like Musher's Secret, use natural waxes and oils to shield you dog's paws from water and ice, protecting them while they're outside. Soothing paw balms use natural ingredients to heal cracked or dry pads. Finding a formula with therapeutic CBD oil can be extra beneficial.
Trimming the fur between your pet's toes makes paw cleanliness and health a bit easier, as well as helping to prevent those pesky snow balls and ice chunks that can form between the pads.
And for those walks in the snow or on cold sidewalks or icy roads, dog boots will keep your pet comfortable and safe from the de-icing salts and other chemicals. Plus, they can save you from needing to wash their paws when you get back inside.
Good nail care is important, too. Long nails can strain tendons in the feet, and make a dog sensitive to walking on hard surfaces. They also lose traction as their nails get long because they walk more on the backs of their feet, and their toes spread more allowing snow to bunch up in between their pads.
Keep their nails trimmed on a regular basis with a good quality nail clipper.
If your dog doesn’t like having their nails trimmed, keep the sessions short and only do one paw at a time. For smaller dogs, try filing the nails frequently instead of trimming less often.
De-icers, Salt & Heavy Metals
The fuller and longer your pet's coat, the more attention they will need during winter weather, especially after a walk or romp in the snow. Be sure to thoroughly wipe down your furry friend's paws, legs and underbelly after a walk in winter weather, particularly if you walk near roadways. This is also essential for cats with outdoor access.
Slushy snow from sidewalks and roadways can contain a whole host of toxic chemicals including de-icers, salt, antifreeze, and heavy metals from vehicle exhaust. Your pet will ingest these if left to clean their own fur and paws, so be sure to remove the dirt before they do with some handy pet wipes.
Eco-friendly sidewalk de-icer, like Safe Paws, are a must for all pet parents (and pet neighbors) to keep those toxic chemicals off your pet's paws and out of your home.
A green (or pink or orange, etc.) puddle on your garage floor can be extremely toxic to your dog or cat. If you fill your own radiator or if yours overflows, be sure to clean up thoroughly.
Antifreeze has a sweet scent and taste that attracts dogs and cats. If you suspect your animal has ingested antifreeze, contact a veterinarian immediately. There is an antidote available for antifreeze poisoning, but time is of the essence and the longer it takes to obtain the antidote the greater the risk of kidney damage or worse.
Feeding During the Winter Time
As winter settles in, you may need to adjust your pet’s food intake to meet his changing fuel needs. Dogs that spend as much time outside in the winter as they do in the summer need extra protein to help their bodies produce the extra energy it takes to keep warm.
For those "less adventurous" dogs and cats who spend a bit more time indoors napping by the fire, you may need to reduce their calorie intake to keep them from gaining weight.
Celebrating the holidays with scrumptious meals is tradition for most of us, but be mindful of what you share with your pets. Lean meat, lightly cooked veggies, or a spoonful of mashed yams are a fantastic treat for your canine or feline friend, but skip the turkey skin or ham fat, and nothing that could be potentially dangerous.
Remember to reduce their regular rations a bit to compensate for the extra helpings of people food. Also, be sure the trash is well secured after holiday meal cleanup so prying paws can’t dumpster dive for the bones and scraps. Veterinarians see more cases of pancreatitis during the holidays than any other time of year because too many pets get too much of a good thing.
Holiday Travel with Your Pet
More animals are lost during winter months as snow and blustery weather can make it difficult for them to find their way home if they get lost. Make sure your pets are microchipped, wear current ID tags, and be sure to keep them on leash if you are walking in snow and ice.
Those who live where winter can bring severe weather should keep a survival kit in the car in case of emergencies. Don’t forget to include provisions for your companion like an extra blanket and water, a bowl, and snacks. And if you do take your friend for a ride in the winter wonderland, don’t leave them alone in the car. Just as the car acts as an amplifier for heat in the summer, it can easily become a freezer in the winter.
To make your car as comfortable as possible for your pet, make sure you bring their bed, a blanket, and one of their favorite toys. Many cats enjoy being in their crate for car rides. This gives them a sense of comfort and promotes relaxation. Dogs usually enjoy being in the open, but make sure they can't interfere with you while you're driving. There are dog seatbelts to help keep them restrained.
Before setting out, be sure that your pet has all the essentials to ensure that their trip is happy and safe. Take along a good supply of your pets most effective calming remedies, whether herbal, homeopathic, or CBD. Be sure to try out any stress relieving remedy for a few days ahead of the trip to be sure that it's effective, and that your pet will tolerate it.
If your pet is prone to getting car sick, remember to bring a motion sickness remedy or stomach soothing remedy and give them one preemptively.
Aromatherapy sprays for dogs and cats can be helpful to support a feeling of calm. Simply spritz them in your car or on your pet's bedding or crate before you welcome them in. It helps to take the edge off, but remember, dogs and cats respond to different scents. Dogs are calmed by traditional aromas like lavender, whereas cats are calmed by the aroma of catnip.
Pet Friendly Hotels
Leaving Your Pet at Home
Can't take your pet along on your holiday travels? For many pets, the optimal solution is a pet sitter who stays in your home with your companion or at least visits several times a day. However, relying on a neighbor or the kid across the street to check on your pet is not always a good idea.
Pet sitters take their job seriously. They come on a schedule and will not forget to show up or leave your companion without a bathroom break for too long. Cats are a bit more resilient since they can use the litter box, but they should still be checked on daily and provided with fresh food and water, as well as some attention and play time.
The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International provide information and referrals to local pet sitters. Other places to shop for a reliable pet sitter are through your veterinarian or trainer, or by asking for recommendations at your local dog park or pet store.
Boarding Your Pet
Millions of pet guardians choose to entrust their pets to boarding facilities when they travel. Thankfully, high quality boarding facilities are becoming easier to find. Boarding your companion can offer peace of mind, knowing your dog or cat is safe, secure, and well cared for.
Advance planning is the key to finding the best boarding facility to meet your pet's needs. Ask for referrals from your veterinarian or trainer, and visit more than one boarding facility before making your choice. The American Boarding Kennels Association website provides information and referrals for boarding kennels across the country.
You shouldn’t need an appointment for a tour of most boarding facilities. In fact a surprise visit is probably best. Experts often suggest that you drop by a boarding kennel without advanced notice to the staff in order to get the best idea of how things appear, smell, and sound when it's "business as usual" and they are not expecting you.
Also, watching how the staff interacts with the animals will tell you a great deal about the care your pet will receive there.
Most boarding facilities will require vaccination proof, so make sure your pet is up to date and you have all of the appropriate paperwork.
Just as dogs and cats that will be traveling need support to manage stress, pets that are staying at a boarding facility will benefit from the support of calming remedies.
In addition to extra support for the nervous system in handling stress, consider providing extra support for their immune system if they will be staying away from home.
Special Holiday & Winter Concerns
Adopting a Pet
Thinking of welcoming a puppy or kitten into your family this holiday season? This can be a great addition to your family, but take pause if you're planning on giving a pet as a present. This can present it's own set of challenges. Puppies and kittens are usually better brought into families when it's a planned and agreed upon endeavor.
If you're unsure you're ready for a pet, or want to find a way to give back to our four legged friends during the holiday season, you can always try fostering a pet. This is a great way to help a pet in need and take some pressure off of your local shelter or rescue.
Puppies & Kittens
Puppies and kittens are especially susceptible to the cold. For puppies, house training is quite a bit more difficult when going outside is unpleasant rather than a treat. Keep a potty area well shoveled if you live in a snowy area, and consider a tarp lean-to or cover if you live in the rainy Northwest. Even though your puppy will grow quickly, get them a jacket for those chilly trips to the potty.
Older animals are also more sensitive to the cold, and will tolerate less time outdoors in the winter. Consider a coat or sweater for your senior pal even if they have a longer coat. As animals age, they are less efficient at regulating their own body temperature and get cold much more easily.
Older dogs are often less steady on their paws as well, so a set of boots may be helpful.
Senior dogs and cats can also have issues with joint support and discomfort, especially during the cold of the winter. Joint support can be helpful to keep their joints lubricated and healthy. CBD has been shown to help significantly with discomfort, and certain herbal remedies, like turmeric and ginger, have been shown to support a healthy inflammation response.
The drier air in our homes in the winter which can make animals more prone to dry noses and nasal passages, upper respiratory infections, dry, itchy skin and other problems. Consider using a humidifier to keep everyone more comfortable.
An air purifier may be helpful as well since the windows are closed tight for the season and any toxins in the home have nowhere to go.
Does your dog or cat spend a lot of the day outside, either as a working dog or an indoor/outdoor cat? Outdoor cats and dogs need special consideration during winter months.
Make sure they have an insulated, enclosed shelter to escape the elements, with a flap door that does not face into the wind. Use straw or shavings as bedding rather than old blankets. Old blankets will retain moisture as well as providing a prime breeding ground for molds and parasites, as well as insect pests. However, a fleece or wool blanket on top of a thick layer of bedding will wick moisture away.
If there are outdoor cats in your area, make sure to bang on the hood of your car before starting it since they like to curl up in a warm engine and may still be there when you return.
Keeping your pets healthy and safe during the winter and holidays can seem daunting, but a little planning can go a long way. Just make sure you follow the appropriate guidelines for your pet, whether it's dealing with the cold, planning a trip, or leaving your pet in good hands when you're away.
Remember, you know your pet best and will know exactly what they need, whether that's a break from stress, a good snuggle, or a special treat for the holidays.