Those cold winter months are right around the corner. Antifreeze and snow chains are being added to cars. Gutters and roofs are receiving inspections and heating systems are being checked for the long months ahead. But, your house and car aren’t the only things that need special attention—outside pets need cold weather consideration as well. And, though the optimal course would be to bring your furry friend inside for the winter months, if that’s not possible, you should make sure that he has a weatherproof, dry, heat-retaining place to weather the cold months.
Although all my cats are cushion-sitters whose pampered paws have never touched grass, I do keep a small dog-house outside for the benefit of my neighbor’s roaming duo of felines, George and Fionna. I also like to put out a bit of extra food in the ‘stray’ bowl during the winter months. Although most of it is pilfered by the ravaging squirrel hordes in my backyard, Fionna does usually stop by for a nibble in the winter months. Extra calories are a requirement for outside animals and Fionna has never been one to turn down a spare bowl of Purina.
If you have a pet that spends all or part of his time outdoors, you’ll want to make sure he has fresh food and water. Keeping food and especially water unthawed during the colder months can be tricky. But most pet stores now carry several varieties of heated dishes that keep Fluffy or Fido’s food and water ice-free in all but the most extreme temperatures. I tend to find that food disappears quickly during the winter months. So I refill the outside dish a few times a day. Last winter, Mr. Cat, my current house-cat-in-training, had just made his appearance and I was desperate to keep him in kibble and water through the dark months. This year, with Mr. Cat safely indoors and no feral cats in the area, there’s no real reason to keep out kibble. But old habits die hard and I find myself still filling the stray bowl. I seldom find it full at day’s end.
As for dog houses and other outdoor pet shelters, one problem that I have noted is that they tend to sweat if you’re in an area that has much temperature fluctuation. Here in Tennessee, we can wake up to a balmy 30 degrees and see temperatures around zero by nightfall. This can lead to wet bedding and, even worse, wet cedar chips. Plastic lining under bedding does tend to help and heated bedding dries quickly. So your pet’s house and bedding need to be checked daily for moisture during the winter months. And look for a shelter that is slightly raised off the ground—they stay a bit warmer.
If your dog is short-haired, you’ll want to invest in a pet-sweater and/or boots for those long walks during the winter months. You may even want to knit a sweater yourself. There are patterns available to make both pet clothing and sweaters which can be purchased at your local fabric supply shop. If you do decide to knit Fido some winter-wear, make sure you weather-proof the fabric. You’ll also need to make sure that your dog isn’t allergic to the fabric used or the weather-proofing spray.
Staying warm and dry while on his winter walks is just important to your dog as it is to you! If you don’t use footwear for your dog, make sure to inspect his paws daily for chapping, frostbite, or ice crystal formation between the paws. There was a reason Puss wore boots in the fairytale. No dog or cat wants a frostbitten paw! As a personal note, I wouldn’t attempt to actually try adding boots and a cap to your cat’s winter ensemble. The cute little Santa hats that my Grandmother knitted for Tig and Lo ended up as chew toys—although I was able to snap one cute picture before the yarn-unraveling frenzy began.
In addition to the cold itself, winter months provide other related dangers for outdoor pets such as anti-freeze poisoning, shocks and burns from exterior holiday lights, as well as vehicle hazards. Anti-freeze, de-icer, and other winter chemicals should be stored safely and out of any pet’s reach. And remember, just because your pet isn’t outside, doesn’t mean you don’t have neighbors’ pets who are. Make sure holiday lights are high and out of the reach of all pets–whether they are yours or not. And, be certain that no dangerous substances are left lying about to be sniffed or licked. Actual salt can be used to thaw frozen walks instead of chemical melting solution and pet-friendly ice-melt is also available. Cats are also attracted to cars in the cold months. You may want to rap your hood (or honk your horn) before starting your car on frosty mornings just to make sure that no one small and furry has taken residence during the night.
Even the most festive of times can be a hazard for pets. Each year pets and rushed to the vet after ingesting tinsel, toxic holiday foods, and decorative plants is also a problem. Holly, poinsettias, Xmas cactus, and peace lilies, as well as onions and onion powder, potatoes, and chocolate should be kept well out of your pet’s reach. Keep pets away from live trees and their water. And keep a close eye on your pet for signs of poisoning. Fatigue, nausea, weakness, drooling, leg-dragging and muscular tremors, coma, and convulsions are all signs of poisoning. Encourage friends and holiday guests not to give pets table scraps – no matter how sweetly or insistently they ask for them. You might want to even consider keeping a jar of pet treats around just in case some kindhearted soul can’t resist throwing poor ole Fluffy something to eat during your celebrations.
Winter can be a time of great fun and wonder with its holidays, snowy days, and nights spent in front of roaring fires (whether real or artificial). Just make sure that you take time to consider your best friend’s needs when those winter days roll around so that your furry family can enjoy a Winter Wonderland as well. And, please find two of my personal recipes for holiday treats below. I hope your pets enjoy them and that you all have a safe holiday season!
Lady Dog’s Peanutbutter Biscuits:
- 4 cups of whole wheat or self-rising flour
- ½ tbsp. Baking powder
- ½ c. shortening (veggie)
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tbsp. Peanut butter (creamy)
- ¼ c. carob chips
Preheat your oven to 375. Sift flour and baking soda with carob chips in a mixing bowl. Add milk, shortening, egg, and peanutbutter mixing thoroughly. Knead dough and roll on a cutting board. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters or a biscuit cutter. Bake on a cookie sheet (ungreased) 15-20 minutes at 375. Cool and store. These can be stored 2 weeks in an airtight container or frozen. This recipe will make 2 dozen biscuit sized bones.
**This recipe is for dogs only. Cats and carob do not mix.
Granny Whiskers’ Rice and Nip Pudding:
- ½ c. rice (white or brown)
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- ½ cup cream (or half and half)
- ½ stick butter
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 tbsp. Catnip
- 1 chicken bouillon cube or ¼ cup chicken stock
- 1 tsp. oil
In a deep pan, add rice, oil, and water and bring to a boil for 15-20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a saucepan, heat milk, cream, and butter over medium heat until all butter is melted. Add bouillon cube and dissolve. Add rice and simmer over medium low one hour. Combine egg and catnip. Simmer 15 minutes more until mixture is thick and serve warm.