The land of the snow – otherwise known as Central New York – is where I really learned about winter’s ill effects on pets. Onondaga County in particular is known for its position southeast of Lake Ontario, east of the Finger Lakes and southwest of Oneida Lake, where the atmospheric conditions produce what’s called “lake-effect snow.” Over the course of a normal winter in the region, there is rarely a week without the white stuff falling fairly regularly.
Though we are technically still in autumn, it’s a good idea to get your pet ready for what winter may have in store in the coming months. They need to be prepared to deal with the elements if they will be outdoors at any point in winter. Even though they wear fur coats and usually run around bare-pawed, even pets can develop hypothermia, proving that there’s danger to deal with, in spite of that pretty white landscape.
One example of how snowy weather can threaten the well-being of pets is the tale of a dog whose humans took him hiking in the woods one snowy day. Eager to follow the scent of rabbits and other critters, the dog bolted off into the snow beyond sight. Calling and calling his name, his owners finally gave up their hunt for him once darkness fell and they reluctantly headed for home, heartbroken. There was no trail to follow to determine where their pet had gone, and one can only guess what may have happened to him. They returned the next day to resume their search but an additional snowfall overnight may have added to their pet’s dilemma.
Snow can be disorienting. The markers that dogs rely on to make their way around their territory can be wiped out by repeated snowfalls. If you must take your pet out in a snow storm, keep him or her leashed wherever you have to go. Never let your pet run loose off your property.
When in doubt, leave the dog home.
If you’re out in the woods during hunting season, make sure your dog is dressed with a vest and/or neckerchief in blaze orange. (A household dog is not recommended to be in the woods when hunters may be present. Unless the dog is trained to be a hunting companion, the risks are too great.)
A dog who chases wild game, whatever the season, risks becoming a target too. In some places, it is permissible for a law enforcement officer to shoot a dog that is chasing game; keep your dog safely at home if you’re not confident in its behavior.
The same goes for cats, although dressing them in blaze orange may be difficult if not impossible. Keep them indoors during hunting season or keep them on a leash for those times that they must go out. If they must go out, follow them and make noise to alert any wildlife or hunters in the area.
For long periods in cold weather, smaller dogs like the chihuahua may have trouble keeping warm and dry, so if taken outside, they may benefit from an extra layer of warmth provided by a sweater or windbreaker coat and protective boots on their paws.
Pets that must go out should be shielded from wind and freezing temperatures, so make it a short jaunt in the fresh air — just enough time to make a few snow angels and come inside for a long winter’s nap.