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Just like you schedule your seasonal wardrobe swap, the process of protecting your pets from frigid temperatures should begin long before the mercury plunges. As soon as the brisk fall air settles in, follow these steps to weather-proof your pet's routine from the upcoming big chill.
Rules for the Outsiders
We don't agree with the practice of keeping dogs and cats outdoors all their lives -- these pets are often lonely and bored, and are more likely to be suffering from physical neglect.
That said, we realize some people won't bring animals in the house, no matter what. If you're one of those people, you must provide adequate outdoor shelter in the wintertime. And the time to review your pet's shelter is before the blizzards begin.
Animals must be able to get out of the elements. A pet must have a well-insulated structure just large enough so that he can curl up inside to maintain body heat. The structure should also have a wind-block to protect it from wintry blasts. In the coldest parts of the country, it should also have some sort of outdoor-rated pet-heating pad or other device. And be sure that there's always a supply of fresh, unfrozen water by using a heated bowl.
Animals who spend any significant amount of time outside will need more calories during cold weather. Food is fuel, and they'll need to burn it to stay warm.
Final outdoor caution: Remember to thump on your car's hood on cold mornings. Your cat may be nestled against the engine for warmth, and thumping your car's hood will get the animal to skedaddle to safety.
Warm to the Core Inside
Indoor pets don't face the challenges outdoor pets do, but winter can be uncomfortable for them as well. For pets with arthritis, cold weather can be more painful, so ask your veterinarian about supplements or prescription medications that may help your pet feel better. A soft, heated bed may be much appreciated, too, especially by older pets. And remember that one of the best things you can do for a pet with joint problems is to keep the extra weight off: A pet who's more sedentary in winter needs to eat less.
What about sweaters and coats for dogs? Some animals can really use the extra insulation of a well-fitted sweater: older pets, and dogs who are tiny (such as Chihuahuas), or who are shorthaired and naturally lean (such as greyhounds or whippets). Overcoats can save you time drying your dog if you walk in inclement weather, especially if your pet's longhaired. And don't forget to wipe your pets' feet, legs and belly after they've been outside to keep the animal from ingesting any de-icing solutions.
Because home heating systems can dry out the air, you and your pets may be more comfortable if you introduce some humidity. Birds, especially those species originating in tropical climates, will enjoy extra opportunities for bathing or being misted.
Cold-weather pet care is a matter of compassion and common sense. Use both in equal measure, and your pet will get through the worst of the season in fine shape.
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