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Caring for Senior Pets in the Winter

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A woman kisses her Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog in bed on a winter day.

When cold weather sets in, keeping your senior cat or dog warm, comfortable, and healthy can help ensure they’re prepared for the temperature drop. Winter can be tough; here’s how to make it a little easier.

The Importance of Winter Care for Pets

Taking care of your pets during cold weather is crucial for their health, safety, and overall well-being, especially if they are entering their golden years of seniority. Frigid winter weather can be harsh on old bones and aching joints, and freezing temperatures can be hazardous to the health of our four-legged friends, even deadly. It’s important to take extra measures to care for and support our senior pets, helping ensure their comfort in challenging weather conditions.

Cold-weather Challenges Faced by Senior Pets

When temperatures dip into the teens, it becomes risky for all cats and dogs, regardless of their age. However, our senior pets are particularly vulnerable to the cold. Older dogs and cats are especially susceptible to the winter elements, and you may find underlying health issues are agitated by cold weather. Unlike their younger counterparts who are more resilient, older pets have less tolerance for the cold and are at a higher risk of developing hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related illnesses and injuries.

Trouble warming up

Just like people, as our four-legged companions grow older, their ability to regulate body temperature may weaken, making them more susceptible to the effects of extreme temperatures. This is because their immune system slows down and fails to act as strong as before, increasing the chances of heart issues, respiratory challenges, and a lack of blood flow to the brain.

Icey injuries, painful joints, and arthritis aches

Frigid winter weather can be harsh on old bones and aching joints, and cold weather conditions pose risks to our older pets. Injury is a primary concern for senior dogs who are out walking, running, and playing in cold winter weather. Icey sidewalks pose the risk of slipping and falling, especially for our senior dogs. This is because, like senior humans, senior dogs have slower reflexes and less balance than dogs in the prime of youth. When a dog slips on the ice, their limbs may “splay” out in all four directions, and the sudden stretch of the muscles and ligaments can cause an injury like a sprain or strain.

Older pets may also be dealing with arthritis and joint stiffness, which can become much more stiff and painful in cold weather. Even pets who don’t normally show signs of arthritis may become stiff when it’s colder out.

Exposure to extreme temperatures

Pets can get very sick from hypothermia. Exposure to extreme cold for too long can cause organ dysfunction that, in the worst cases, can be fatal. If your cat or dog shows signs of hypothermia (especially if they seem lethargic or sluggish), contact your veterinarian right away.

Cats and dogs, regardless of their thick coats, are susceptible to frostbite on sensitive areas of their bodies. The most commonly affected tissues are their paws, ears, nose, and tail. It's important to note that if a pet is wet or damp, these areas become even more vulnerable to frostbite.

Caring for Senior Pet in Winter

Even if your senior dog or cat has tolerated the tundra for the last 10 years, they may need some extra help staying warm.

How do I keep my senior dog or elderly cat warm in the winter?

Caring for senior dogs and cats during winter is essential to ensure their health and comfort. As pets age, they become more vulnerable to the cold weather, and the winter season can be particularly harsh on their joints and immune system. It’s important to keep them warm and dry, provide them with adequate nutrition and hydration, and make any necessary adjustments to their exercise routine.

Comfort is key

Caring for senior dogs and cats during winter and keeping them comfortable is essential to ensure their health. Keeping these things in mind can help keep them warm and comfy throughout the winter months.

Keep Your Pets Warm.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but keeping a senior dog or cat warm, especially during the colder season, is paramount.

Heating pads and warming beds.

Provide a warm, comfy place for your senior pet to lie down and rest. The cold, hard ground is not an ideal place for them to sleep. Warming beds and heating pads are well-loved by senior cats and dogs. They’re great for arthritic animals and especially appreciated by older pets with creaky joints.

Place your senior pet’s bedding in an area with a comfortable temperature.

Make sure your fuzzy friend's bed is kept away from chilly spots with drafts, but also make sure it's not too close to anything that generates heat. Doors and windows can bring in cold air, while space heaters and fireplaces can make your pet too toasty, especially if they doze off in front of them. Plus, they could get burned if they get too close. Instead, give your older pet a nice, supportive orthopedic bed in an area of your home that stays cozy all year long.

Outfit your senior dog appropriately for outdoor activities.

Even in harsh weather conditions, it's important to ensure that your senior dog gets the exercise and bathroom breaks they need. To keep them comfortable and dry, consider outfitting them with a waterproof jacket or vest. This will prevent them from getting soaked to the bone in freezing rain or snow. Additionally, it's crucial to protect their paws from the ice, snow, and salt. The chemicals and salt solutions used to melt snow and ice can be harmful if ingested and may also cause injury or irritation to their paw pads.

Make it easier for them to move around.

Cold weather can cause discomfort for pets with arthritis, leading to stiffness and soreness. Consult with your pet's veterinarian regarding potential medications or treatments that can help alleviate pain. Additionally, create an environment that’s easy for your pet to navigate. Consider using ramps or steps to assist them. When there is snow on the ground, shovel a path and use pet-safe salt to make it easier for your pet to go outside for bathroom breaks without having to navigate through drifts of snow.

It may be getting colder out, but with a little thought you can be sure that your senior pet has a great winter season.

As a pet parent, you have a big responsibility in making sure your senior pet stays cozy, secure, and in good health during the winter months. Winter can be tough on both humans and pets, especially for our older four-legged friends who need extra care. By following some simple steps to keep your dog or cat safe and preparing your home for the cold season, you can help make sure this winter is the best one yet.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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