Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Caring For Outside Pets in Cold Weather

By Linda Cole

Not every pet has the luxury of sleeping inside in a special pet bed or snuggling under a warm blanket beside their human on cold winter nights. Some pets are not able to share their owner's home for a variety of reasons. Even though they are stuck outside, there are ways to help pets stay warm and dry. Outside pets need extra TLC and attention given to them through the snowy days and chilly nights of winter.

I have a friend who has four outside cats. Last fall, her husband built a beautiful insulated cat house for them with lots of room to spread out in. It has two floors with access to the second floor from the inside, and lots of straw and warm baby blankets to curl up in. Sounds like the perfect shelter to escape the wind and snow, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the raccoons in the neighborhood think this cat house is pretty sweet too. Plus, outside pets don't always appreciate our best efforts, and sometimes refuse to use shelter that's been provided.

The best solution, especially for cats, is to have several different areas they can get into for shelter. Cats will search for a place that is warm, and this includes car engines. During winter, it's a good idea to bang on the hood of your car to alert possible stowaways it's time to vacate their nest. Banging on your hood can prevent unnecessary injuries to a cat who curled up next to a warm engine. It's also a good idea to check your garage or any outside buildings to make sure your cat or someone else's doesn't get shut inside by accident.

Outside pets may need to be encouraged to use their dog house or cat house. A thick layering of straw for burrowing into works great to help ward off a cold chill. If you live in the country, you might try making a straw bale cat house like the one pictured above, which features a 2-story insulated sleeping chamber, maze-corridors and a glass-fronted “sun room.”

Avoid using hay because it has a tendency to mold when it gets wet. It's important to keep their bedding dry. A pet door large enough for your pet to comfortably get through helps to keep out snow, rain and wind. Just keep in mind, other critters may find your pet's winter quarters to their liking and can also get through pet doors. Avoid feeding outside pets in their sleeping area. Coons and possums will be attracted to the food, and you will end up feeding them instead of your pet. If possible, feed your pet inside on the back porch instead of leaving food outside.

Making sure your pet has fresh, unfrozen water can be challenging as temperatures fall. Heated water bowls work well and are easy to install. Outside pets will find water sources that can be harmful or potentially dangerous for them. Don't allow your pet to drink from melted pools of water that could contain antifreeze, chemicals used as deicers on streets, or ice melt that was used on sidewalks. Antifreeze poisoning is serious and can be fatal to cats and dogs.

An outside pet burns a lot of calories trying to stay warm. If they eat primarily dry food, consider adding a premium quality canned food like the CANIDAE and FELIDAE Grain Free Salmon formulas to their diet, for extra calories during the winter months.

Stray cats or dogs can always use a helping hand during winter's fury even though it's not our responsibility to feed them. If you see a stray cat or dog, please be generous and give them some food, shelter and water, especially if it looks like they need someone to step in and give them a hand. Even though most lost pets or strays don't understand someone is trying to help, they will appreciate a small bowl of food and water left in an out of the way spot just for them. They could have a family who is looking for them or had circumstances beyond their control that left them homeless. If you have a no kill shelter in your area, consider calling them. In most cases, they will send someone to try and capture the cat or dog and will take it back to the shelter.

Most outside pets can get through winter safely provided they have proper shelter with warm, dry bedding, and plenty of fresh unfrozen water. However, outside pets should be brought inside during periods of extreme cold or heavy snowfall. Cats and dogs feel wind chill just like humans do, and have the same risk of frost bite and hypothermia. Plan now so your outside pet will be well cared for when those winter winds begin to howl.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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