Editor’s Note: This article has been altered from the original.
If you’re a pet owner, you’ll want to make sure you keep your fur children as warm as possible during a deep freeze to avoid discomfort and health risks. And don’t forget: It’s best never to leave your dogs outside without any shelter when the temperature drops below freezing.
Here are a few steps you can take to make sure your pets are safe, comfortable, and not totally crazy with cabin fever.
How to keep your dog warm in freezing weather
Kenneth Drobatz, chief of emergency service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's Ryan Hospital, recommends keeping your dog indoors as much as possible in freezing conditions.
"Even dogs with heavy fur coats can get hypothermic," he said. "But if you do take them outside, make sure that you're using insulating dog sweaters or jackets if you have a single-coated or thinner dog."
It's also important to clean your dog's paws and belly after a walk, Drobatz said. Dogs with longer fur can collect snow among their toe pads, which can form into ice balls and cause frostbite. Rock salt used on sidewalks can also cause irritation, especially because dogs clean their paws by licking them.
"If they ingest too much salt, it can definitely cause stomach problems," Drobatz said.
If your dog has sensitive paw pads, you should consider investing in a paw balm, which conditions and protects their feet, according to Michael Cohen, a veterinarian at Center City Veterinary Hospital. And if they're cooperative (unlike my pug, Pinto), you can even try putting them in waterproof dog boots.
"Old dogs often get cracked noses as well in the cold, so you should keep an eye on those, as well," Cohen said.
Bag Balm, a soothing ointment developed for cow udders, is a terrific product that can be used on paws and noses. If you can't get to a pet store, coconut oil is also a good moisturizer that's harmless if ingested.
And don't forget that icy sidewalks are just as dangerous for your four-legged friends as they are for you — a fall can easily lead to a broken bone or dislocated hip. Drobatz said dogs, no matter their size, shouldn't be walking across frozen lakes or ponds because they can break the ice and fall in.
How to keep your cat warm in freezing weather
Drobatz said cats will often look for warm areas during cold days, so it's important to try to keep your feline friends from getting into potentially dangerous spots, like under a car hood. Even if your cat is safely indoors, neighborhood and feral cats often seek warmth in such spots.
"The cats can get caught up in the fan belt when the car starts, which causes pretty serious injuries," Drobatz said. "We recommend banging on the fender or honking your horn before starting your car, because while these injuries aren't super-common, they do occur."
If you're looking after a cat that spends its time primarily outdoors, Cohen suggested creating a small enclosure for it to relax in.
"You can take a Styrofoam box and cut it out, and that will provide some much-needed insulation for the cat," he said. "Make sure it has plenty of bedding and access to water."
You can even get your cat a heated bed if it likes hanging out next to large windows. The K&H Thermo-Kitty Bed has been user-tested and approved.
How to keep other pets warm in freezing weather
It's important for all domesticated animals to be kept indoors as much as possible, but if you have a barn, consider using a water heater to make sure your horses and cows always have access to water. You should also make sure their bedding is adequately warm, Cohen said.
As for birds and reptiles, Cohen recommended keeping them away from drafty windows. Put them in a sunny spot where they can relax and get some warmth.
If you have any other questions about extreme weather exposure, give your vet a call.