Our furry companions depend on us to keep them safe when temperatures drop.
As humans, we know how to care for ourselves when temperatures drop. We turn up the heat, and put on our coats, hats, and gloves when we go outside. But how we take care of our furry companions in cold weather may not be as obvious. Maybe our parents taught us that dogs and cats are more resilient to cold weather, but more recent research tells us something different. Here are DCSPCA’s essential tips for caring for companion animals when it’s bitter cold outside.
Please, bring pets inside
Please don’t leave your dogs, cats, or rabbits out in the cold when temperatures drop. Their fur will not protect them from the bitter cold. A rule of thumb: if you are cold when outside, so is your pet.
Once the temperature falls below 45 degrees, some dogs will begin to feel uncomfortable on their walks. Watch them for these signs: shivering, hunched back, anxiety, whining, reluctant to put paws on the ground. Once the temperature falls below 32 degrees, keep walks short for senior dogs, small dogs, and dogs with thin coats (such as Pitties and Chihuahuas). Consider a jacket for small or short-coated dogs, and dog shoes to protect their pads from ice and salt. Once the temperature falls below 20 degrees, dogs can easily develop hypothermia or frostbite. At that point, bathroom breaks should be kept short. Under no circumstances should you leave dogs—even winter-coated dogs like huskies—unattended outside, in cold weather or otherwise.
House cats should always remain indoors, especially in cold weather. There are numerous reasons why indoor life is preferable for a domesticated cat, including avoidance of injury and disease, and there is no good reason a house cat should be outdoors. Indoor cats on average live three times as long as indoor-outdoor cats. Enrich your cat’s environment indoors with toys, trees and window perches, and they will not want to leave the warmth of your home or your companionship. Cats cannot withstand cold temperatures for prolonged periods and are very susceptible to frostbite, despite their fur.
Domesticated rabbits, like cats and dogs, need to be protected from cold weather. You may see wild rabbits and surmise that if they can be outside all winter, then all rabbits can be outside year-round. This doesn’t take into consideration that wild rabbits have the protection of a burrow that they have built, to be guarded from freezing temperatures and extreme weather. Your pet rabbits want the warmth and comfort of the indoors, and they also want your company. Pet rabbits should never be outside in cold weather.
Take responsibility for community cats
Many of us were brought up to believe that animals who live outside can manage on their own. This may be true for wild animals, but it’s not the case for community cats including strays and feral cats.
Cats have evolved to be dependent on humans. The food that stray and feral cats need comes from humans, whether they scavenge it from a restaurant’s dumpster, or a kind human takes responsibility for feeding them.
If you notice that a stray cat is friendly, please coordinate with a shelter, such as DCSPCA, to take them to the shelter so they may be adopted into a loving home.
Unlike the cats in your home, and friendly strays, feral cats will not do well inside of a home and will always regard humans as potential predators. If they’re feral, and not friendly, they will want to stay outside with their cat friends, in the feral colony they call home.
Yet, feral cats are still dependent on humans caring for them. How do you do that when they can’t be brought inside? Please read our article How to Care For Feral Cats When It Gets Cold for everything you need to know to care for your local feral colony.
Use caution when starting your car
Community cats frequently take refuge around car engines for the sake of getting warm. Please check under your car, bang on the hood, and honk your car before starting it to be sure there’s no one using it as their protection from the cold. If you do find a friendly feline there, please contact DCSPCA (or your local shelter) so that we can help them find a home.
Prepare for bad weather
With a snow storm on the horizon, many of us stock up at the store in case we’re not able to get there for a few days. Just as you gather the things you and your human family need, please be sure to purchase supplies for your pets. Make sure you have enough medication for any of your furry family members who need it. Pick up extra bedding for your bunnies. See to it that you have all the pet food you might need. And stock up on pet-friendly ice melt products if you might require them. A good rule of thumb is to have 5 days worth of supplies.