Winter is finally here. It’s official. And the latest forecast (including subzero temperatures) will require us to take special precautions for our pets. Whether they live inside or outside, our pets need extra care when temperatures drop.

WATER. A frozen bowl of ice is not an appropriate water source. Your outdoor pet will need frequent water refills (or replacements) to stay properly hydrated during the winter. If you can’t refresh your pet’s water every three or four hours, consider buying or making a heated water bowl.

SHELTER. Protection from north winds is especially important in the winter, as is a clean, dry, sheltered place where your pet can escape the elements. Hay or straw is better than a blanket for bedding, because the animal can burrow in and make a nice nest. Remember that hay or straw needs to be replaced if it gets dirty. Add to the bed throughout the winter to keep it fluffy and warm.

EXERCISE. Exercise is the best way I know to boost a body’s core temperature. Don’t underestimate the value of a walk even on a winter’s day as  a way to help your pet stay warm and active. Walking is also a great way to provide companionship to your pet (and vice versa). Even in winter you owe your dog a little social interaction every day – whether that be ten minutes of ball play, some general romping, or a regular training session.

KEEP OFF ICE. Keep companion animals away from frozen ponds, lakes, or flooded low-lying areas. The best way to do this is by restricting access. Use a fence. Lock that gate. A dog or a horse does not have the sense to know whether ice is strong enough to support her weight. And even if you are there with the animal, rescuing an animal from the middle of a frozen pond is dangerous business. The best thing to do is keep them away from ice. Provide a water source elsewhere so that your animals are not drawn to potentially dangerous icy water.

PROTECT PAWS. If your dog walks on city sidewalks and streets during the winter, her feet will pick up the various chemicals that are used to melt snow and ice. These chemicals will be ingested by your dog when she licks her legs and feet. That’s why it’s a good idea to wipe paws with a damp rag after a winter walk. As an additional measure to protect the pads of the feet, you might try a product called Musher’s Secret; this product is a wax that provides protection in extreme temperatures to keep your pet’s feet from getting dry and cracked.

Our pets need care all year round, but this requires more of an effort in the winter. When we humans spend more time inside where it’s warm, we sometimes forget the comfort of our four-legged friends. If you can’t keep them inside with you, please provide your pets with the protection they need to stay healthy through the cold days and nights ahead.