Should outdoor animals stay outside for the winter?
Rain, snow, and winter temperatures are just as hard on
dogs and cats as they are on people. Young or old companion animals --
especially arthritic or sickly -- should be brought inside for the
winter. Cats should always be brought in the house or into heated
garages or enclosures at night. Bring animals inside during cold snaps
or when it rains.
If animals cannot be brought inside for the season,
create a wind proof, waterproof enclosure. Put dog runs against the
house and cover with a tarp, tied down. Provide a snug shelter inside a
run with plenty of clean, dry bedding. Check weekly or after a major
storm for leaks, damage, and wet bedding.
Does an outdoor companion animal need a different
diet in the winter?
Outdoor animals may need more calories to maintain their
weight during winter weather. A teaspoon of safflower or vegetable oil
for every 20 lbs. of body weight mixed in with the pet food will help
prevent your companion animal's coat and skin from becoming dry. Older
animals on a low-protein/low-fat diet may do better on regular adult
food for the winter, but get advice from a veterinarian first.
Kittens or puppies or pregnant/nursing females may have
special needs during cold weather. Again, seek a vet's advice.
How can one ensure water for an outdoor dog?
An outdoor dog needs plenty of fresh (not frozen) water.
Avoid metal water bowls, since a dog's tongue can easily stick to the
freezing metal. If low temperatures have frozen the water in a dog's
bowl or bucket, replace it with fresh water.
Frozen water is unavailable water. Snow is not a
substitute and neither is "wet" food. Dehydration becomes a real risk
for outdoor animals in very cold weather.
One solution to frozen water is a "pail de-icer,"
available from pet supply catalogues. If your dog is a "bowl tipper,"
you can purchase a large, heavy bowl intended for livestock, or dig a
shallow hole and set the bowl into it to prevent spilling.
What kind of outdoor shelter does a dog or cat need?
A warm kennel or doghouse, preferably in a south-facing
or sunny area, is vital for an outdoor dog. Face the entrance away from
prevailing winds or drafts. In an area that's particularly windy in the
winter, build an L-shaped entrance to the kennel. The kennel should be
well insulated and the floor should be elevated several inches off the
A dog will hold body heat inside the kennel if extra
bedding, such as hardwood shavings (not pine or cedar) or straw, is
provided. Old rugs or blankets should not be used for bedding -- a dog
will track in moisture on his feet that can turn to ice. Heavy fabric or
pieces of carpet attached to the top of the kennel's entrance will cut
down on drafts (beware of protruding nails or hooks). Throwing an old
blanket over the top will increase the insulation factor.
The kennel's roof should be slanted or angled so that
rain and snow will not collect there.
A doghouse should be big enough for your dog to stand
and turn around in, but snug enough to help hold in body heat.
At least weekly, check the inside of the kennel for damp
bedding mold and mildew. (Every dog faces increased risk of respiratory
and skin infections in the winter.) Cut ventilation slits in the kennel
walls to help get rid of mold and mildew.
What about winter pests?
Fleas can thrive on a thick-haired outdoor animal even
in the depths of winter and heartworm-bearing mosquitoes may be a
year-round problem in warm climates. See your veterinarian about a
recommended schedule for flea, tick and heartworm preventives.
In areas that do not completely freeze, fleas may be a
What about outdoor exercise for dogs?
Exercise is still important, even in winter. Apply a
layer of petroleum jelly to paw pads to protect them from ice and salt.
After walking a dog in ice or snow, check her paws for frostbite. Also,
her paws may crack from the bitter cold or burn from the chemicals in
rock salt used to melt the ice. A dog may be better protected from
cracking paw-pads or burning chemicals if her feet and underside are
wiped off with a damp towel immediately after she comes in the house.
Winter boots may also be purchased from pet suppliers.
Deep snow is difficult for all but the longest-legged
dogs to negotiate. If you would use snow shoes or cross country skis,
leave your companion animal at home.
A coat or sweater may help keep a short-haired dog warm
in extreme temperatures. Decrease the time outside if the weather is
What about antifreeze poisoning?
Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is the most common winter
poison danger, and can be fatal to companion animals, wildlife, and even
children. Most commercial antifreeze contains ethylene glycol that has a
sweet taste many dogs and cats can smell at a distance and will actively
seek out. A tiny amount can be fatal -- less than two ounces is enough
to kill a dog, one teaspoon enough to kill a cat, and as little as two
tablespoons can be hazardous to a small child. Most companion animals --
and wildlife -- will rapidly drink many times the fatal dose.
The first symptom is acting "drunk" -- staggering,
vomiting, copious drinking, and urination, often followed by a period of
apparent recovery. One to three days later, there will be signs of
kidney failure such as not eating, depression, vomiting, dehydration,
coma and eventually death. If you are even a little suspicious that your
companion animal has consumed antifreeze, see your veterinarian
immediately. Early detection can save a life. Treatment must be started
within hours to prevent irreversible and fatal kidney damage.
Fortunately, antifreeze poisoning is totally
preventable. A small amount of diligence and effort can save lives:
• Dispose of drained antifreeze properly, in an
environmentally safe manner. Before dumping it in sewers and septic
tanks, make sure it's safe and legal to do so.
• Don't leave an antifreeze container open, even for a minute. A minute
is all it takes for an animal -- or a child -- to drink a lethal dose.
• If possible, hose down and dilute boil-overs. If it is still green, it
is still toxic!
• Store concentrated antifreeze in tight containers, out of reach of
animals and children.
• Repair leaky car radiators, hoses, and water pumps.
• Use a non-toxic antifreeze, such as Sierra, which contains propylene
glycol. This substance can still cause illness, especially in cats, but
is far less dangerous than ethylene glycol.
What about cats seeking shelter in or near cars?
Warm car engines can be hazardous to cats. Outdoor or
stray cats seeking warmth and shelter often make the fatal mistake of
climbing up near a car's engine to sleep. Prior to starting your car, be
sure to bang on the hood of your car or beep the horn to roust any cat
that may be inside.
The Holiday Season
Why is the holiday season dangerous for companion
The excitement of gift-giving, family get-togethers,
party preparations ... it's all too easy during the holidays to
temporarily forget the needs of companion animals.
If you are traveling for the holidays and plan to leave
your animals in the care of others, provide written instructions for
feeding, medicating, exercise, and handling emergencies. Leave the phone
number of your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic with the
other "essential" phone numbers. Notify your vet of the dates you will
be away, the name and number of the sitter, and emergency contact
If you plan to board them at a kennel or other facility,
visit first and make sure you are comfortable with the enclosures your
animals will be kept in, the degree of cleanliness, and the professional
care they will receive. If there are specific diet or other
instructions, make sure they can be carried out. If your animals have
special dietary needs, bring your own food and written feeding schedule.
Ask if you can leave a familiar toy or blanket with your companion
animal to provide some comfort in your absence.
How can companion animals be protected during
As most care givers of dogs and cats know, companion
animals don't like change. Unfamiliar people, strange decorations, rich
food, drinks, smoke, odors, noise, and gaiety can turn a companion
animal's environment upside-down. Add a few small children running
around in the seasonal excitement and a dog may well react with barking,
biting, digestive upsets, or worse. Cats will likely hide under the bed,
but may streak outside while the front door is open, so keep an eye on
If a party is planned, it may be best to confine your
companion animals in a quiet part of the house along with their
comfortable and familiar bed blanket and toys. Or leave your dog at a
familiar neighbor's or relative's house. Indoor animals should never be
put outside "just while the party's going." An animal accustomed to the
warm house will suffer when the outdoor temperatures are lower than he
or she is used to.
If your companion animals are nearby during a festive
meal, ask your guests to refrain from "just giving them a little treat."
Rich table scraps may upset a companion animal's digestion and result in
vomiting or diarrhea. If serving the traditional meals for the holidays,
make sure those turkey or chicken bones are dumped in the outside
garbage where your dog or cat can't get to them. And outside trash bins
need to be secured against plundering by other outdoor animals.
Keep out of harm's way such party treats as chestnuts,
peanuts, and candy (especially chocolate, which in large quantities can
be fatal to a companion animal). Holiday plants such as poinsettias and
mistletoe are also poisonous to animals, and should be kept out of their
reach or replaced with artificial replicas. And budgies and some other
caged birds, if allowed out of their cages, may suffer ill effects from
nibbling on Christmas trees.
Is alcohol dangerous for companion animals?
As with other drugs, keep alcohol away from companion
animals. You'd be surprised how many cats and dogs will drink wine,
beer, or sweet mixed drinks. Only a little can intoxicate a dog, and too
much can affect his breathing, put him into shock, even cause his system
to shut down. Even if the dog survives, his system will have an
unpleasant hangover to deal with. Keep alcohol -- including those
half-full glasses left over from the party -- away from companion
What are good gifts for companion animals?
Gifts for companion animals should be considered from
their perspective. A toy that seems wonderful in the store may be so
small a puppy or kitten might swallow it. A luscious treat contrary to a
companion animal's accustomed diet may cause discomfort and possibly
even disastrous consequences such as diarrhea, vomiting, or pancreatitis.
Instead, give dogs "practical" gifts, such as new
collars or leashes, and treats such as dried liver, jerky bits, or
home-made dog biscuits. Cats can almost always use new scratching posts
or litter boxes. And toys that can be easily batted about will stimulate
a cat's natural hunting instincts.
How is a Christmas tree dangerous?
Puppies and kittens (as well as adult animals) often see
the baubles and branches of a Christmas tree as an invitation to climb
the tree, or pull at the branches or ornaments. When decorating the
tree, use only garland on the lower branches and keep fragile ornaments,
lights, and tinsel up on higher branches. (When swallowed, tinsel can
cause digestive upsets and intestinal blockage, it may be best to avoid
A small latticework fence (available in the gardening
section of hardware or discount stores) around the base of the tree
helps keep dogs and puppies away. Some chemicals used to extend the life
of the Christmas tree are poisonous and lethal to companion animals, so
even if there's no room for a fence, the treated area should be covered
with a small section of window screen.
Electric cords that light up the trees or other
decorations can shock companion animals, and a chewed cord is a serious
fire hazard. Keep electrical cords hidden away from curious companion
animals by routing the cords through special cord protectors, foam
tubes, or PVC pipe (available at local hardware stores).
Do companion animals make good Christmas or Hanukkah
Some people think it's a wonderful idea to surprise a
friend or relative with an adorable puppy or kitten as a gift. In
reality, an animal is probably the most thoughtless present they can
give. Modern veterinary care and suburban lifestyles mean the average
companion animal will live 12-15 years or more, which means 12-15 years
of not just licenses and veterinary care but also supplies such as food,
collars, leashes, litterboxes, etc. A friend or relative may not be
ready to accept that kind of commitment. A "gift" companion animal
should always be discussed with the prospective owner first.
Even when a friend or relative is ready for a companion
animal, holiday excitement amid new surroundings may terrify a new dog
or cat. A better gift at Christmas or Hanukkah is a book about the
animal or on companion animal care. After the holidays, when it's
quieter, is a much better time to give the actual animal. The cat or dog
will then receive all the calm, loving attention he or she needs.
(Kittens and puppies are rarely available at Christmas, as their
breeding season usually runs from early spring to fall.)
Adopt an animal from a shelter rather than purchase one
at a pet store. Because of mass breeding techniques, pet store animals
often suffer diseases not apparent at time of purchase. Shelter animals
have often had all their shots (except rabies), and many are usually
already spayed or neutered. Also consider the benefits of adopting an
adult animal, who may already be housebroken or used to a litter box,
and be at least partially trained. Remember, adopting a shelter animal
means saving a life!
Another wonderful gift for an animal lover is to make a
donation to a local shelter in his or her name. Most facilities offer
thoughtful acknowledgments that will mean a great deal to your friend.
After all, animals don't know about holidays, people do. For the animal
"who has everything," helping other animals may be "just the thing."
A child under 7 years of age should not receive as
presents any baby animals (chicks, ducks, rabbits, young kittens, etc.).
These baby animals may not survive Christmas morning when children, too
young to know better, squeeze the life from them. And in families where
young children may know how to treat baby animals properly, can the same
be said of their friends from school? A stuffed toy animal is cuddly,
cute, never needs feeding or veterinary care, doesn't carry disease, and
adapts well to periods of indifference.
Animal Protection Institute
Go on to FARM's 1999 Bill Rosenberg Award
Return to 10 October 1999 Issue
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