A couple weeks after Rooster joined my family, it snowed in my hometown. I was already back at college but my sister sent a video of Rooster playing in the snow with her and my mom. It was really that moment that I realized this dog was truly meant to be a part of our family. In the years after that, Rooster’s love for snow hasn’t changed. He prances and dance around in the snow and will often only stand still long enough to munch on some snow. I was recently reminded of this video when we got our first snowfall of the winter at the beginning of November and was reminded that as another winter is finally upon us, there are so many things to do to keep our pets and animals warm and safe.
Dogs in Winter
As much as Rooster (and many other dogs) loves the snow, there are some things to keep in mind when out and about with our canine companions during the winter. If you’re looking for a dog to keep you company in cold weather, there are many different dog breeds that have the characteristics meant for cold temperatures and snowy weather – akitas, great pyreneeses, newfoundlands, and saint bernards are just some examples.
One tip for keeping pets safe this winter would be to keep antifreeze out of reach, as just a small amount of this stuff can be fatal for a dog. Be mindful of any spills and learn the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning. The signs early stage of antifreeze toxicity would typically present as if the animal was intoxicated: a stumbling, unsteady gait, vomiting, depression, seizures, more frequent urination at first.
Those are just the first stages of antifreeze toxicity and while an animal might improve with treatment, there’s a chance that their kidneys were severely affected by the antifreeze. The best course of action, other than keeping any sort of antifreeze out of reach or cleaned up immediately, would be quick treatment from your veterinarian. This is one of those situations that needs immediate action because any sort of waiting can have a significant impact of the animal and especially on their kidneys.
That is probably one of the most terrifying but unlikely situations that could happen during the winter. Again, the best way to deal with a situation like that would be to keep antifreeze out of reach and securely contained. And there are some other things to keep in mind this winter! One is to protect your dog’s paws. Some will put little boots on their own dog’s paws while they go on walks but if you don’t, a good thing to do would be to wash off their paws after each walk. That would wash off any soot or road salt from their paws, as ingesting the road salt through licking their paws could lead to some gastrointestinal irritation. Plus, boots could protect their paws from being cut up by ice and there are so many cute boot options!
Some dogs will also need sweaters if they’re going to be outside for any reason (i.e. walks). Dogs with thicker coats or who are double coated, like German Shepards or huskies, won’t need sweaters, as their coats will be warm enough. But dogs with short hair, puppies, or senior dogs might need a sweater to help keep them warm!
If you have an outdoor dog, it’s important that they still have a safe, dry, and warm place to sleep each night. Over at The Spruce, they recommend that the shelter not be too large, as the space should be just big enough for the dog to curl up and the dog’s body heat can fill the space. And depending on how cold it might get, getting a heat lamp to help the dog through the night might help as well. Even in a garage, dogs will need a little cubbyhole to snuggle in to keep warm. Many dogs (not all) have thick coats to protect from some cold weather but even so, dogs can still get frostbite and hypothermia in cold situations, which makes it important for us as owners to take care of them in whatever way that works for us and them.
There are so many other things to keep in mind with dogs in the winter time. One would be to make sure that any heater, stove, or fireplace had a pet proof system so that your pup doesn’t get accidentally burned! Also make sure that your dog(s) have plenty of water and to make sure that their skin and coat is healthy, consider adding coconut or fish oils to their meals. Just like us, dogs can get dry, flaky skin in the winter and these supplemental oils can help them have healthy skin and coats. Instead of using dry skin remedies meant for humans (i.e. lotion – please don’t use lotion on your pet), I’d recommend either taking to your vet about this issue and see if they recommend anything or talk to someone at a pet store, as there are several different dry skin remedies meant specifically for dogs.
One of the most important things about taking care of a dog in the winter would be to not leave them in the car for any amount of time. As with the heat in the summer, staying in the car unattended in the winter can be dangerous because of the outside temperatures. And leaving the car running could lead to other problems as well (carbon monoxide poisoning for example).
Cats in winter
If you have an indoor cat, there aren’t many things you’d have to do to help them during the winter time, as they’ll stay warm in the house. But for cats that are indoor/outdoor or strictly outdoor, there are several things to do to help them during this season. For indoor/outdoor cats, I’d recommend having the cats stay inside at night, as temperatures tend to drop even lower when the sun sets.
For strictly outdoor cats (or feral neighborhood cats), it’s important that they do have access to some kind of well-insulated and appropriately-sized shelters. Companies like Amazon do sell heated cat shelters but it’s also possible to build your own! The Humane Society of the US has a blueprint for building an outdoor cat condo but if you’re like me and have little to no construction skills, it is possible to use a somewhat large plastic storage bin as a simple shelter. And there are plenty of spaces online that offer ideas and ways to use plastic storage bins as an outdoor cat shelter. But like with dogs, outdoor shelters for cats should be just big enough for them to curl up and keep warm with their own body heat. In the shelter, put straw or pillowcases with packing peanuts and shredded newspaper at the bottom, as cats like to burrow. Don’t use blankets, towels, folded newspapers, or hay, as these things tend to absorb a cat’s body heat or irritate their noses.
Like with dogs, it’ll be just as important to keep anti-freeze in a safe, secured place and to immediately clean up any spills and not keep cats in your car for anytime (if for some reason, you have your cat in your car…). And even if you don’t have a cat, it’ll be important to bang/slap on the hood of your car (if you have one) each morning, as cats might seek shelter in or around your car.
Chickens in winter
Whenever it gets at or below freezing, I always feel really bad for our chickens. These animals are some of the smallest domesticated creatures I take care of (cats, on average, are just a bit smaller) and with only feathers, there’s always a part of me that wonders how on earth our chickens manage each winter. But each time it snows and/or each time there’s some sort of storm, our chickens persist!
Chickens do surprisingly well in the winter, particularly because they tend to huddle together for warmth. They won’t need a heater in the coop, in part because they have each other for warmth. But at the same time, having a heater in the coop is a fire hazard and could result in a disaster. If you’re really worried about your chickens, there is one way to naturally keep chickens warm at night in the coop: the deep litter method. I’ve never done this method but essentially, this method is a way that uses a mixture of bedding and chicken poop. As this mixture decomposes, it gives off a bit of heat to help the chickens through the night.
To really accomplish the deep litter method, start adding several inches of bedding (like pine shavings) to the coop floor in the summer and fall. As the chickens poop and time goes on, start to occasionally mix it all together and add more bedding every once and awhile. Once or twice a year, clean everything out and make sure that you have adequate ventilation in the coop. (Ventilation in the coop will be necessary year-round regardless of whether you do this method.) If you’d like a first hand account of doing the deep litter method, I definitely recommend reading this blog post from the blog ‘The Simple Life Ain’t Easy’.
Other things to consider with chickens in the winter would be a heated water base under a galvanized metal waterer if the temperature remains at or below freezing for a consistent amount of time. And if you’d like to have eggs during this season, consider getting a light in the coop to help! A hen’s pineal gland greatly influences her laying and that gland is influenced by daylight; most hens will need roughly 12-14 hours of sunlight to lay. Supplementing daylight in the short days of winter with a 60-watt incandescent light bulb or two on a timer in the coop can help your hens keep active and laying eggs.
Supplemental lighting isn’t something you have to do for your hens in the winter time, as it’s really only something to do if you’d like to have eggs during the season. If you do get a light, consider having the light turn on in the early hours of the morning to allow for a longer day, as having the light on in the evening and then suddenly shut off could disorient the hens before bed. And if you do decide to have supplemental lighting, you should either turn the light on consistently or have it on a timer (which might be the easiest option).
Winter is here in many ways (as evident by the snow that parts of Washington experienced at the beginning of the month!) and taking care of the animals in our lives will be important. Dogs, cats, and chickens don’t deal with the cold and snow in the same way we do but there are still important things to do! Regardless of their coats, dogs and cats that spend a lot of time outside will still need a warm place to sleep each night and a warm place to stay while it snows. And backyard chickens, at least in the Pacific Northwest, won’t need too many things to help during the winter. Doing a few small things to help your animals during this season can really help them deal with the cold weather and short days!