If our pets could talk they would probably say that they prefer the cooler months of the year to the summer months. The dog’s physiology is better adapted to keeping warm; the mechanisms for heat loss are not very efficient in dogs and cats.
Most pets suffer from over-protection during winter. Many are confined in doors in artificially heated houses and have to sleep in areas that are too hot.
These conditions can lead to a drying out of the tissues of the nose and throat and predispose the animal to low-grade infections of the respiratory tract. The animal may begin to have noisy breathing, may snort to relieve the irritation in its air passages, and may start to cough. The owner then thinks the animal has caught a cold and subjects it to even more heat and confinement.
Most animals are healthier if they spend most of their time out of doors. They should be able to shelter from very inclement weather, but outside they have the ability to exercise and have a much more interesting time responding to sounds and smells, rather than being confined indoors in front of a television set in which they are totally disinterested.
Of course, there are situations where owners have no option but to confine their animals indoors for long periods. If this is the case it is important to take the dog or cat outside at least twice daily. In the case of a dog the daily walk or run is important to maintain its muscle tone and general fitness.
Just as regular exercise is important, frequent grooming is necessary in winter. Grooming rids the animal of loose hair which, unless removed, can cause skin irritations. As the level of heat inside a house is usually high, a dog that is prone to skin irritations often suffers well into the winter months. Fleas also can remain a problem in an artificially heated environment.
Dogs and cats that are outside for most of the day should be fed greater quantities during the colder months. Much of the daily food intake is required to maintain their body temperature. It is preferable to give two small meals during the day rather than one large amount. Animals that are sedentary inside the house do not require more food.
A bed should be supplied with multiple layers of old blankets or rugs and raised slightly off the floor. Bedding should be shaken daily to remove shed hair, and if any fleas are discovered on the dog be sure to treat the bedding with one of the household insecticide sprays.
Many owners cannot resist putting a coat on their pet. In general this is counter-productive because it inhibits the normal growth of hair, which is a much more efficient insulator than a coat that only covers a portion of the body surface. Some old dogs that have lost their dense hair covering may profit from a coat if exercised in very cold conditions.
Old dogs that suffer from arthritis require some special care during the winter. Special attention should be given to their beds to ensure that they are well insulated from any draughts or cold from a concrete floor.
Regular exercise is most important to maintain mobility, and care should be taken to keep a dog from getting overweight. If the old pet has difficulty in negotiating stairs or is very stiff after getting up, your veterinarian can prescribe some effective yet safe tablets to maintain the dog’s ability to exercise and enjoy life.