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How to Get Your Pet Ready for the Winter Months

We tend to think that our pets' plush coats are enough to keep them warm in winter. But their fur is a less-than-perfect insulator, especially if the animal gets wet. Your pet's toes, nose and ears are also vulnerable to chilly temps, requiring extra protection from extreme conditions.

Take precautions any time the temperature drops below freezing. A good rule of thumb: If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet. Here a few ways to help make sure your animals stay warm, healthy and happy this winter.

Shelter

Your dog and cat need a warm, dry home if they’re going to spend any length of time outdoors during winter. These shelters should be well insulated and just large enough so the animal can stand up, turn around and comfortably lie down — anything bigger is harder to keep warm. Old blankets are good to use inside the shelter, as they provide warmth and are easy to remove and throw in the wash. The floor should be raised a few inches from the ground, and the doorway should be covered with a waterproof material.

Food

When temperatures drop, pets burn more calories trying to stay warm. This means you’ll probably need to increase the amount of food you’re giving them — sometimes as much as 30 percent, depending on the pet and housing conditions.

Water

It’s also important to provide fresh, unfrozen water at all times. Pets can still get dehydrated during the winter months, so routinely check your pet's water dish to make sure the water is fresh and hasn’t frozen. Or consider an inexpensive heated bowl to maintain a source of drinking water (eating snow will not suffice). And be sure to use plastic food and water bowls, because your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal — just like yours!

Pet Clothes

For small dogs especially, cold temperatures can make it tough to stay warm on walks. A dog sweater can help. If you do opt for a cold weather coat on your dog, don’t leave him unattended outside. Not only does your pet risk frostbite and other danger if his canine clothes get wet, he may try and wriggle out of the coat or get it caught on something, making it a suffocation risk.

When it's cold or wet out, veterinarians say it's vital to keep younger, older and sick pets indoors since they often lack the fat, metabolism or a full fur coat needed to stay warm when temperatures plunge.

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