9 expert tips to keep your pet safe in winter’s bitter cold

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They may have fur, but winter poses a real risk to pets as temperatures plummet and streets get covered in salt and ice. Still, some pets and their owners have no choice but to bundle up and brave the cold. Here's some expert advice on keeping your pets safe during the chilly months:

Protect paws with petroleum jelly or booties

Even in the backyard, exposure to cold and damp conditions can cause chapped paws. The ASPCA recommends rubbing petroleum jelly into paws or putting on some protective booties (if they keep them on) to provide additional protection as pets head outside.

Bundle up and take short walks

Dogs and cats have fur coats, but the exposed areas on their noses, ears, and paws are at risk of frostbite, and hypothermia is still a concern as well. Dr. Donna Alexander of the Cook County Department of Animal & Rabies Control said dogs living in Chicago's climate may even be less adaptable to the cold than those born and bred in Alaska.

For short-haired dogs and pets, which have less protection from the elements, experts say it's a good idea to bundle them up in a sweater or other garment, no matter what some (mean) humans may say. Safety first!

When you do venture outside, Dr. Alexander says walks should be limited to 10 minutes or less. And the Humane Society says roaming pet cats should not be left out in the cold at all.

Wash their feet and stomach with warm water

Winter means salt on the roads and sidewalks, which can not only cause irritated paws, but also poses a poisoning risk to pets when the salt is licked off. To prevent salt poisoning, experts say you can put some warm (not hot) water on a towel and give their paws and stomach a quick wash once you get back inside.

Towel dry them as soon as possible

Also don't forget to remove ice balls, excess salt and chemicals with a dry towel after each walk. While you may not be able to see it, coming in and out of the cold can cause pets' skin to dry out. It's not a bad idea to check out those paws while you're at it — see if the pads are cracked or there's redness between the toes. Let the vet know about any issues.

 

Don't shave your pets, and bathe them as little as possible 

Pets' winter coats are pretty good at keeping them warm — so long as humans don't mess with them. So don't shave them during winter, and cutting back on baths helps their skin retain essential oils that keeps their skin from drying out.

Feed them a little extra — their bodies are doing extra work!

Animals' bodies (including our own) burn extra energy to stay warm, so it's a good time to give them a little extra food to make up for the difference. Plenty of humans do the same thing! Also, if they eat outside, use plastic bowls instead of metal, which can stick to their tongues if it gets too cold.

Keep poisons stashed away

Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but according to the Humane Society its sweet taste can attract animals who try and lick it up. So keep that antifreeze and rock salt safely stashed away.

Keep them warm, don’t leave them in the cold

Even heated dog houses may not be enough during record-cold temperatures. So make sure your pet has a warm spot to sleep, and don't leave them out in the car for extended periods either. Vehicles can act like a refrigerator and cause animals to freeze to death.

Speak out if you spot an animal left out in the cold

The bottom line is the cold can be deadly for pets if they're left outside. So if you see an animal left out in the cold, it's worth taking a couple of minutes to check with their owners to make sure they're taken care of. If that fails, the Humane Society has tips for what to do if you spot an animal left out in the cold, which includes contacting police if it looks like the animal is at risk.