Healthy Winter Tips for Your Pet

Kansas City is known for winters that get out of control! Stay ahead of the game this season with your four legged friends with tips from PetMD.

Winter storms, cold temperatures and dark skies can contribute to the winter blahs, but also can be hazardous to a pet’s health. If you plan ahead, you and your pets can stay safe and healthy with these money-conscious pet tips.

1. Light therapy

If your pet is sleeping more than usual during the darker, drearier months, your dog or cat may be suffering from the wintertime blues- a mood disorder that causes depression during the winter season Like humans, dogs and cats are sensitive to changes in light, and less light in the winter may cause a decrease in natural brain chemicals, like serotonin, that contribute to their mood. Other than opening the curtains on sunnier days, the quick fix is to leave a lamp on during the dark days, preferably one with a full spectrum light bulb, purchased at lightening stores or larger hardware retailers. In recent years, full-spectrum lighting has been used in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder through the use of these types of light bulbs that mimic natural sunlight.

2. Walk safely in the winter

Icy sidewalks in the winter can make it dangerous to walk your dog, especially if he’s a puller. To protect yourself, teach your leashed dog to heel when walking. Start by having your leashed dog, sit by your left side, and call her name to attract her attention. Instruct her to “let’s go” and start walking. When you are walking, keep her shoulder at your left leg. If she pulls ahead, tell her “NO!” and give her a gentle tug with the leash and say, “Heel.” Praise your dog with a treat when she obeys. After your walk, give her lots of pets and praise for job well-done.

3. Protect paws

Daily walks are a must for your dog, but ice, salt and chemical de-icers can lead to painful paws. Trim the hair between your dog’s toes and paw pads with rounded scissors so ice and salt won’t cling to his feet. Also be sure to check out Pawks socks when you’re in the store! Additionally, after your dog comes in from the outside, mix ¼ cup of Epsom salt in a bathtub with cool, shallow water to soak your pet’s paws for at least 10 minutes. The cool water will soothe the itching, while the Epsom salts will treat any irritation. To avoid stomach upset, don’t allow your dog to drink the water.

4. Quick dry

After a romp outside, drying your dog off quickly is imperative in the winter months. According to a recent study conducted by David Hu and his colleagues at Georgia Tech, a 60-pound dog with a pound of water on its fur would use a full 20 percent of its daily caloric intake staying warm if she is air-dried. To quickly dry off your dog, use a microfiber towel. The microfiber’s high absorption ability allows for quick and effective moisture and dirt removal before your pet can track snow and dirt into your home. Moreover, by thoroughly wiping off your dog’s legs and stomach, you are ensuring he does not ingest salt and other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws.

5.  Indoor games

Since your dog is spending more time inside during the winter months, you need to keep him active and stimulated. Turn a game of fetch into a training game, by having him “Sit,” “Stay,” “Retrieve” and “Come.” Also, play games like Hide-and-Seek in which your dog and cat can use their natural instincts. Go in another room and call your pet to come to you. Wait about five minutes and if she doesn’t find you, come out and praise her enthusiastically about his noticing you, as if she had found you. To keep the game fun and inspirational, reward him with pets and treats. Eventually, hide in more challenging spots. If you play Hide–and–Seek regularly, your pet will have a great time hunting you down because he’ll associate the game with lots of fun.

6. Get a pet to sleep in her own bed

Cats and dogs are naturally drawn to warm areas, especially during the winter—which is why Fido and/or Fluffy may be more interested in sleeping with you rather than in their own beds. To encourage your pet to sleep in his or her own bed, try this: before bedtime, run a towel or the pillow of the bed through the dryer for a few minutes to warm it up, then tuck it into her sleeping area. She’ll gravitate toward her own warm bed, allowing you both to get a good night’s sleep.

7. Grooming your pet without static

Brushing your cat or dog in the winter helps remove dirt and debris from pet’s coat, but it can also be a shocking experience-  compliments of the of the static electricity caused by dry indoor air. To prevent shocks during grooming sessions, avoid brushing your pet when he’s on a synthetic surface. Instead have your pet stand on a 100% cotton natural-fiber rug or hardwood floor.

8. Ease anxiety during a storm

Even if your pet is generally a confident pooch or kitty, he may just be afraid of winter storms with their howling winds and barking skies. As a result, they whimper, pant, hide and display other signs of distress. Calm your pet by outfitting him with a Thundershirt. A Thundershirt uses gentle, constant pressure to calm your dog or cat, effectively aiding anxiety, fearfulness, and more. In addition to his wearing this calming coat, set up a crate or pop-up tent to serve as a protective retreat for him.

10. Boost your pet’s immune system

In the winter months, boost your pet’s immune system like you would your own by supplementing his diet with cod liver oil. Cod Liver Oil – a natural, fish oil containing omega 3 fatty acids, and Vitamins A, C and D will contribute to healthy skin and coat, flexible joints, strong heart, sharp eyesight and youthful energy.  Apply oil directly to food. For cats, give ¼ tsp and for dogs:  give dogs 0 – 20 lbs./1/4 tsp.; 20 – 55 lbs./1/2 tsp. and dogs over 55 lbs./ 1 tsp. As with all supplements, consult your veterinarian before giving them to your pet.

11. Humidify your home for less

Your dog or cat can suffer an asthma attacks when the air in your home is dry. The trigger:  the cold winter weather outside, coupled by indoor heating systems, which easily depletes all the moisture out of your home. Adding a humidifier is an easy way to replace this lost moisture in your home, but humidifiers can be expensive, require high maintenance and surface area.  To replace some moisture in the air and soothe your pet’s airways, boost the humidity level in your home with a large pot of water simmering on the stove every day. This method releases moisture into the air in the form of steam; the same way as a humidifier. The downside is that the moisture is limited to the area in close proximity to the stove. If you want to circulate the moist air, add a fan next to the stove to blow the air out and away, increasing the reach. Additionally, be cautious by never leaving the house with a pot simmering on the stove.