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It’s that time of year–Winter is coming on soon. It’s time to snuggle up in front of a fireplace with a warm kitty on your lap or a puppy at your feet. But before you settle down to enjoy the winter, take some time to learn how to keep your furry friends as warm and comfortable as you are.

Cold weather can be hard on pets. Sometimes we forget that our pets can feel the cold just like us. Some folks will leave their pets outside, thinking that all animals are adapted to live outdoors. This can put their pets in danger of serious illness. There are things you can do to keep your friend warm and safe.

Take your pets in for a winter check-up before winter kicks in. Your Vet can check to make sure there isn’t any medical problems that will make them more vulnerable to the cold.

Keep your pets inside as much as you can. If you have to take them out, stay outside with them. When you’re cold enough for you to go inside, it’s time for them too. If you absolutely must leave them outside for a significant length of time, make sure they have adequate protection to survive. Shelter from the wind, thick bedding, and plenty of non-frozen water.

Your pet’s health will also affect how long she can stay out. Diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances can compromise a pet’s ability to regulate her own body heat. Ill animals shouldn’t be exposed to the cold for a long period of time. Very young and very old animals are vulnerable to the cold as well. Regardless of their health, though, no pets should stay outside in the freezing cold. If you have any doubts, call your vet. The very young and the very old pet should be kept inside and safe and warm.

Cats will curl up against almost anything to stay warm–including car engines. Cats caught in moving engine parts can be seriously hurt or killed. Before you turn your engine on, check beneath the car or make a lot of noise by honking the horn or rapping on the hood.

Heating devices in your home will attract your pets. As your dog or cat snuggles up to the warmth,make sure that tails or paws don’t come in contact with flames, heating coils, or hot surfaces. Pets can either burn themselves or knock a heat source over and put the entire household in danger.

Pets that go outside can pick up rock salt, ice, and chemical ice melts in their foot pads.Don’t forget to wipe her feet with a washcloth when she comes inside. This will keep her from licking the salt off her feet, which could make her sick.

Keep fresh water available. Sometimes a water bowl has frozen and their pet can’t get anything to drink. Animals that don’t have access to fresh water will drink out of puddles or gutters, which can be polluted with oil, antifreeze, household cleaners, and other chemicals.

Pets lose their body heat from the pads of their feet, their ears, and their respiratory tract. The best way to guard your animals against the cold is keeping a close eye on them to make sure they’re comfortable.

Also keep an eye out for two serious conditions caused by cold weather. The first is frostbite. Frostbite happens when an animal’s body gets cold and pulls all the blood from the extremities to the center of the body to stay warm. The animal’s ears, paws, or tail can get cold enough that ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage it. The tricky thing about frostbite is that it’s not immediately obvious. The tissue doesn’t show signs of the damage to it for several days.

If you suspect your pet may have frostbite, bring her into a warm environment right away. You can soak her extremities in warm water for about 20 minutes to melt the ice crystals and restore circulation. It’s important that you don’t rub the frostbitten tissue, however–the ice crystals can do a lot of damage to the tissue. Once your pet is warm, wrap her up in some blankets and take her to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can assess the damage and treat your pet for pain or infection if necessary.

Hypothermia, or a body temperature that is below normal, is a condition that occurs when an animal is not able to keep her body temperature from falling below normal. It happens when animals spend too much time in cold temperatures, or when animals with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold. In mild cases, animals will shiver and show signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As the condition progresses, an animal’s muscles will stiffen, her heart and breathing rates will slow down, and she will stop responding to stimuli.

If you notice these symptoms, you need to get your pet warm and take her to your veterinarian. You can wrap her in blankets, possibly with a hot water bottle or an electric blanket–as always, wrapped in fabric to prevent against burning the skin. In severe cases, your veterinarian can monitor her heart rate and blood pressure and give warm fluids through an IV.

Winter can be a beautiful time of year. It can be a dangerous time as well, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. If you take some precautions, you and your pet can have a fabulous time taking in the icicles, the snow banks, and the warm, glowing fire at the end of the day.

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Content provided by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Visit the AAHA pet owner Web site at for more pet care advice and to find an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital near you.