With the beginning of the New Year come some of the coldest temperatures we encounter here in Montana. These extreme conditions are not only a hazard to us, but can be dangerous to our pets as well. There are several precautions every pet owner can take to minimize the risks that accompany a Montana winter.
Limit outdoor time. Smaller and short-coated pets are less cold-tolerant than large, thick-coated dogs, and should be allowed outside only briefly to use the bathroom when temperatures dip into the teens or below. Do not leave pets outside unattended for extended periods of time.
Bundle up. Sweaters or coats are a good idea, especially for smaller and short-coated pets, and booties can be useful to protect paws from frostbite.
Stay off the ice. When walking your dogs, do not allow them to run out onto the frozen surface of ponds or rivers, because it is hard to tell if the ice is thick enough to bear their weight, and a fall through thin ice is often deadly.
Take care of those paws. Each time your pets come back inside, wipe off their paws with a warm wet washcloth to remove any de-icing salts, as these irritate paw pads and may be toxic if licked off. Check between their toes and remove any clumps of snow or ice that are clinging to these areas. Also, take this opportunity to check for cracked or chapped paw pads. Pet-safe paw wax or balm products are a good option to protect and soothe dry, irritated pads.
Provide shelter. Any hearty, cold-adapted dogs that live outdoors need a covered and insulated shelter with the door oriented away from the wind. Minimizing door size helps to reduce heat loss. The floor should be elevated a few inches off the ground, and the interior should be lined with rigid foam insulation and covered with plywood. A layer of clean, dry straw at least 6 inches deep should be provided for additional warmth and changed out every few weeks, or sooner if it gets wet. Many good DIY plans are available online, and appropriate shelters can also be purchased from a number of manufacturers. A heated water bowl is also important to ensure continuous access to drinkable water.
Vehicle safety. A warm car engine can attract cats and wild animals looking for shelter; knocking on your hood or honking your horn a couple of times before starting your car will typically induce any animals sheltering within to leave before they risk getting hurt. Also be careful to keep all antifreeze products safely out of reach of pets, and clean up any spills immediately.