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How to protect your pet during the winter

Jackets, fish oil supplements, and maintaining a good diet are some of the ways you can ensure your pet finds the season enjoyable too

Your dog may be furry, but that doesn't guarantee enough warmth
Your dog may be furry, but that doesn't guarantee enough warmth (Unsplash/ Rhaúl V Alva)

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Even the tiniest drop in temperature signals the arrival of winter for a Mumbaikar like myself. We've been scrambling to get our jackets out this week since a thunderstorm brought a cold wave with it. This year's winter is projected to be colder due to the formation of the La Nina weather phenomenon. Although most dogs and cats are better adapted to the dip in weather, presence of fur does not always guarantee enough warmth. As a pet parent, here’s what you need to be kept in mind to ensure your fur baby enjoys the pleasant winter as well.

If you have a dog with sparse fur or a thinning coat, they may need a jacket for warmth. Cats should be strictly kept indoors as prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause hypothermia, a severe drop in body temperature, and can be fatal. A lot of cats meet with accidents while trying to find warmth in and around cars. By keeping them at home, any mishaps from these situations can be averted.

Like humans, your pets too are susceptible to cold and cough. Pugs and other flat faced breeds may struggle more with upper respiratory tract infections in this weather, necessitating extra precaution. Avoid giving any cold food or water as this may aggravate the cold and cause pneumonia, or simply make them vulnerable to respiratory tract infection. 

Winters are also the times when arthritis flares up causing stiffness in older pets. Pet parents frequently call me to report that their dog is unable to get out of bed in the morning after a particularly cold night. However, it’s not just older pets, younger dogs with hip dysplasia also experience joint pain in the winters. Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition that affects dogs of certain breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. The hip joint is ill formed leading to early onset arthritis. Pets that have previously suffered from fractures may experience discomfort.

It is imperative that pets, which fall in these categories, are not allowed to sleep on a cold floor during winter as that will only exacerbate the pain. Pets which have been diagnosed with arthritis and are on joint supplements on a regular basis may also require painkillers while the temperatures are low. Even dogs with hip dysplasia may need additional medication. 

For geriatric pets, painkillers may mean serious side effects, so giving holistic pain relief therapies such as acupuncture may have to be explored to keep the pain at bay. Special attention should be given to cats as they hide their symptoms even though they may be suffering. If you find that your cat seems less active and is unwilling to climb up on furniture that it once did, it could be having arthritis and in pain. 

I had had a pet parent tell me that during winter, they feed their pet 20% extra to provide extra calories to stay warm. This is a surefire way to push you pet to become obese. Increasing diet during the cold months is not recommended because your pet’s activity is anyway restricted. Hence, maintain a regular workout routine. There also appears to be a lot of misconception among pet parents about whether to give their pets a bath during the winter. Baths should be limited to once a month, regardless of the season. Also, ensure that you give your dog a monthly shower on a day that is relatively sunny.

Another frequent complaint in this season is dry skin and dandruff. Yes, even pets are susceptible to these conditions. Apart from adding fish oil (for omega-3 fatty acid) to their food helps, you can keep their skin moisturized by applying coconut oil to the skin.

I receive a lot of images from pet parents of their pets dressed up in fancy outfits and jackets, with some even sporting Santa hats. Receiving such adorable photos brightens my day. Ensure that your pet also feels the joy of the season by providing them some extra care. 

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