Monday, January 30, 2017

Walking in a NOLA Wonderland

Audubon Park uptown provides a great space for a winter afternoon walk.

When we think of winter pet care, what immediately comes to mind (besides shivering) is images of animals outdoors in the cold encountering snow, rain, and other horrors of frigidity, but for those of us living in the deep south in the U.S., the reality of winter is something altogether completely different.

Believe it or not, New Orleans averages just six nights of freezing temperatures per year. Because our subtropical climate generally spares us from harsh temperatures and snow, it can be easy to forget that in many places, this time of year winter really is winter. It can also be easy to forget how to be prepared when real winter does happen. For us in New Orleans, winter is a constant cycle of do we wear a sweater today or a T-shirt?

Ironically, January is National Walk Your Dog Month. While the average daily temperature this time of the year is 61F for New Orleans (our coldest month), it's not nearly that pleasant in most of the rest of country. That leads to the question, who decided that January should be walk your dog month? Had to have been a southerner.

Our client, Lulu, pausing to brace herself in the wind.

Since New Orleans is green year-round, taking walks in winter when it's not oppressively hot is great for both dogs and humans (especially on those days when it's in the 60s). Regular walks allow dogs of all ages to get exercise as well as learn about and interact with the world around them.

For most dogs, outdoor temperatures in the 50s don't pose much risk, but for small breeds there is some potential for unsafe conditions beginning at about 40F. All breeds are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia so don't take it for granted that your BFF doesn't need a sweater or booties. Also, don't forget about the potential effect of wind chill on your fur babies.

Some older pets, puppies and kittens, as well as animals with health issues can all have trouble regulating body temperature. When it's windy out, the natural body heat given off at the skin's surface will be reduced, making it harder to stay warm enough. In extreme cases, strong winter wind can even cause eye damage.

Our client, Sam, all bundled up for his outing on a chilly day.

We covered a number of important winter pet care tips in a previous blog post, but there a few points worth repeating: Never leave animals in a car for any length of time. Just as a car can heat up to oven temps on warm days, it can get refrigerator frosty during cold snaps.

Make sure pets are able to stay hydrated both indoors and out, and keep them away from space heaters which can cause serious burns. Not everyone has central air and New Orleans is full of drafty old houses so if you must use a space heater, purchase one that automatically shuts off if tipped over.

Provide beds with sides for both cats and dogs, and consider adding pads that use the animal's own body heat to help them stay warm without electricity. Special pads and extra blankets can be especially useful for older pets with mobility issues or those with short legs.

Our client, Biscuit, chilling out on his nice comfy bed.

We've already mentioned the benefits of walking at any time of year - and we'll continue to do so in the future - but if your New Year resolution was to exercise and be more fit, your four-legged BFF couldn't be a better partner. Who better to keep you motivated than someone who always wants to go out?

While fitness is essential to good health, the second most important reason for walking your dog regularly is the mental stimulation it provides. Dogs who aren't bored during the day and who get to burn off excess energy will automatically be better behaved, especially when you have to be away from home for several hours.

Our client, Benny, all set to explore.

Be sure to change things up on your route from time to time to provide different sights and smells. If time allows, consider venturing to another part of town. Your dog will be in ecstatic with an entire new set of sights and smells to experience.

Whether it's National Walk Your Dog Month, or any other time of the year, taking your dog (or cat) out for an ambulatory excursion is a great opportunity to get in some real quality time. If you and your BFF have a favorite place to hang out in the New Orleans area, we'd love to know about it! Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite place in the area to explore, walk, run or play.

For specific information on winter protection, be sure to see our Pinterest Board on Winter Pet Care.

Useful links:

Winterizing Pets Can Take the Chill Away

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Warm in Winter

5 Ways to Protect Pets This Winter

Cats and Cars in Cold Weather

An Explanation of Wind Chill