Sunday, January 21, 2018

Yes, It's Winter!

Brrrrrrrr! Fur baby, it's cold outside! New Orleans hasn't seen this much consistent hat, glove, and heavy coat weather in years - so much for mild winters and pets not needing sweaters... if the early cold snap and subsequent bouts of freezing temperatures didn't clue you in, it seems Jack Frost has decided he's been neglecting the Gulf South.

"Sneaux Day" 2018 photo courtesy of Nola harpist Jesse Autumn.

Some animals are perfectly at home in cold weather while others just want to cuddle up someplace warm. Is your BFF showing signs of wanting to hibernate? Refusing to go outside for a potty break? Whining or acting a bit more clingy? There's a pretty good chance they are feeling the cold.

Turning up the heat when you're home is easy enough, but most of us work during the day, and that means fur babies and other companion animals are home alone for several hours with a need to stay warm. Regulating indoor temperatures is easy enough if you have central heat, but for many of those in drafty old houses, space heaters are the norm and that presents a number of potential safety issues from burns to fire.

Christy's Cat Harold doesn't have an undercoat and is not a fan of the cold.

The best way to keep your baby warm when you're away is to take steps to make sure that no heat can escape from their "holding" area. Eventually the inside temperature will drop after you leave as the indoor air starts to fall to match the outdoor air. How soon things change depends on the size of your home and the steps you take to keep winter from creeping in.

If there are drafty areas in your home it's going to be that much harder to keep the temperature indoors above the temperature outdoors. Make sure you've sealed up any problem spots. If possible, close all doors to rooms not in use to help hold the heat in the part of the house where your BFF will be hanging out in your absence.

Since the usual measures to provide extra warmth to your home like space heaters can't be employed when you're not there, your fur baby will need another means of keeping warm. They'll also need to stay hydrated so make sure they have access to water.

PPC client, Brody, cozily snuggled up under a blanket.

Are there areas of your home that naturally stay warmer than others? Place rugs and extra bedding in spots where animals can take advantage full of advantage of their use and limit exposure to cold surfaces such as tile floors. Use draft dodgers, towels or even old sweats at the base of doors to help hold in heat.

As long as the temperature stays at around 40 degrees most house pets will be fine without heat until you return. (Try to not leave them alone for several hours when the indoor temperature can drop below freezing.) Freely roaming animals such as cats and dogs will naturally seek out the warmer spots in your home, but animals in cages will need help from you.

So how can you tell if your home is warm enough? Put thermometers in every room - the old school kind. You'll have instant access to information right at the source when trying to determine which areas stay warmest.

Our client, Girlie, staying warm in her home's linen closet.

Make sure you know what is too cold for your animal to handle. While some pets will be okay if it gets a little chilly, if rabbits get too cold they can experience a life-threatening condition called gastrointestinal stasis. Hamsters will go into hibernation if the room temperature drops too low around them, and that temperature for a hamster varies according to type.

As a precaution, you can place extra nesting materials in a corner of your hamster's cage; if they start to significantly increase the size of it's nest, this is a sign it may be too cold for them. Birds, like animals with undercoats, have layers of feathers that may insulate them, but sudden drastic changes in temperature could cause hypothermia.

Our client, Wolf, sitting on his window seat; note the padding.

Cats will tuck their paws and noses when they are trying to stay warm. Dogs may similarly curl into a ball to try and conserve body heat. Pay attention to your pet's activity and call your vet if in doubt, especially if you see signs of lethargy. As you're trying to provide opportunities for your fur baby to stay warm, be aware that human heating pads are not designed for continuous use and are not recommended for pets. There are, however, self-heating beds and heating pads designed specifically for dogs and cats that are usually incorporated into a bed or a cat "house."

Remember that when you're away you're trying to maintain the temperature that is comfortable for your pet not for you. Just as you don't want to expose them to temperatures that are too cold, you don't want to overdo it either. Air that is too warm and too dry can actually cause skin or respiratory problems.

If your dog or cat wears a sweater to stay warm, make sure to have more than one on hand. If the sweater gets wet for any reason it can lose its warming effect. Having an additional sweater will allow your baby to stay warm while the wet one dries. Even with the sweater you'll still want to leave rugs or mats for them to lie on to avoid losing body heat. Lying on the bare, cold floor can expose them to hypothermia.

For more info on taking care of pets in winter, see our Pinterest board, Winter Pet Care.

Useful links:

Cold Weather Pet Safety

How to Keep Your Indoor Cats Comfortable During the Winter

How Cold is Too Cold for Your Dog?

Ideal Temperature Ranges for Parrots

9 Ways to Keep Your Home Warm Without Turning Up the Heat

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