Protecting Your Outdoor Pets in Cold Winter Weather

by Aurora James
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Indoors is the safest place for dogs and cats when outside temperatures dip below freezing, but what if you have pets that exclusively live outdoors? Whether your pets are busy on the farm, you’re caring for community animals, or have another reason for keeping pets outdoors, there are a few things you can do to ensure they stay safe and healthy through the winter months.

Provide Adequate Shelter

Even if your pets live outdoors, they need shelter in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, there are a few options for outdoor shelters that don’t require inviting pets into the living room. Insulated dog and cat houses, for instance, provide plenty of shelter from cold, wind, and moisture in mild fall and winter weather. Dog houses should be raised off the ground, feature sloped roofs for drainage, and be insulated with a material that won’t trap moisture. Insulating foam and straw are good choices, but avoid towels and blankets, as they easily retain wetness. For extra warmth, add a self-heating pet bed and a warming lamp to keep your pet toasty and comfortable on those colder days.

A dog or cat house alone won’t provide enough warmth in freezing temperatures. If you live in an area with heavy snowfall, you also run the risk of your pet getting snowed in or out. Unless your area has mild weather all winter, pets need additional shelter particularly in cold weather.

Garages are an ideal solution for outdoor pets during frigid winter weather, as they keep pets warm, dry, and protected from windchill. If your garage is unheated, set up your dog house inside the garage and install a forced-air heater, infrared heater, or electric convection heater for affordable garage heating. Don’t have a garage? This could be the perfect excuse to build one! Price to build will vary, obviously, depending on whether the garage is attached or detached, the size and the types of material used (drywall, metal panels, etc.). The cost to build a single-car garage averages between $7,500 and $10,000, while a two-car garage ranges from $20,000 to $27,000. 

Keep a Fresh Supply of Food and Water

Your pet’s food and water bowls require extra attention in winter weather. Keep dishes in a covered area, check water bowls several times per day to ensure they’re not frozen or spilled, and up your pet’s food supply since they’ll be burning extra calories to stay warm.

Avoid using chemical de-icers

De-icer and rock salt are convenient for keeping pathways clear in wintry weather, but they shouldn’t be used in spaces your pet can access. Not only do these chemicals irritate pets’ paws and skin, but they’re also poisonous if ingested. Instead of relying on chemical de-icers, shovel walkways for your pets and lay sand or gravel for traction.

In addition to clearing pathways and play areas, consider applying protective food-grade balm to its paws to protect against cold surfaces and ice accumulation. Long-haired pets, in particular, should have their paw hair trimmed and paws checked daily for balls of snow and ice.

Check Your Car Before Starting

Cats may seek shelter under the hood of cars or in wheel wells during the winter. Before starting your car in cold weather, give the hood a few knocks to wake up any animals hiding within.

Don’t Leave Outdoor Pets Unattended

Outdoor pets should never be left unattended for long stretches. Even if you’ve created a warm space for your pet, always monitor for signs of hypothermia and frostbite and ensure they have fresh food and water and their heat source is working. If you’re leaving town during the winter, board your pets so you can rest assured that they’re safe and warm while you’re away.

As you prepare your pet’s shelter for the winter, keep in mind that your pet’s specific needs depend on its breed, age, and size. While a Husky may be happy in all but the coldest of temperatures, small breeds, puppies, and senior pets need extra warmth to stay safe during winter weather. If you’re ever unsure of the best way to care for your outdoor pets during the winter, ask your veterinarian for advice specific to your pet’s needs.



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