Veterinary behaviorist: Consider pets' shifting needs this coming winter | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterinary behaviorist: Consider pets' shifting needs this coming winter

Nov 20, 2018

Winter is coming – although some would make the case that it’s already here. And the return of snowfall, shorter days and freezing temperatures can have an effect on domesticated cats and dogs as well as their human companions.  

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz joined host Don Marsh to discuss pets’ needs in the colder months and what behavior changes they might experience – as well as other pet-related questions.

What to look out for when it freezes and snows

If the animal lives outside:

  • Provide an insulated house with door facing away from winds and insulated with straw.
  • Check water bowls multiple times a day to make sure water isn’t frozen.
  • Bring animal houses into garages when temperatures drop into the single digits.
  • Provide more food since more energy will be used trying to stay warm.
  • Shovel snow spots so the animal can find familiar grass and eliminate waste.

Exercise is still important for pets during the colder months since they’re more at risk for weight gain during winter. Horwitz recommends short excursions outside for puppies and dogs since they will still be able to warm up quickly. But dog owners also need to check their animals’ paws.

“The pads of their feet can get frostbite, and if there’s salt and things like that on the roadways, if they lick that, that’s toxic,” Horwitz said. “So you need to be able to wash their feet.” She also recommends boots if the dog allows it.

Cats are less likely to go outside during the winter, but Horwitz provided ways to help feral cats survive freezing temperatures.

“If you do have feral cats living in your area, you really should continue to feed them and provide them someplace warm, like a cardboard box with a blanket inside,” she said. “Providing them shelter and food and water is really helpful to get them to survive this cold weather.”

Behavior-related changes

The cooler weather also brings with it environmental changes that can be exciting for the animals.

“The cooler, dryer weather accentuates the scent on the ground,” Horwitz said. “What dogs and cats really like is smelling their environment, because from that they can learn who was here.”

Referring to them as “sniff walks,” Horwitz explained that they are more tiring and engaging for dogs than brisk walks.

Listen to hear Horwitz answer other pet-related questions, including how to walk a dog on a leash, if it’s okay to run with a dog and when it’s the right time to put an animal down:


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