Winter Pet Health Tips
By Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, VMD
As a veterinarian, I have lots of opportunities to observe the most common pet complaints from season to season. Like us, dogs and cats experience different health needs over the course of the year. Knowing what to expect can help you anticipate your pet’s needs as the weather cools to ensure their transition is a happy, healthy one.
Maintain A Shiny, Healthy Coat
Although we associate spring and summer with allergies, many pets experience seasonal symptoms that worsen in the fall or winter. Pets allergic to dander or dust flare up during the colder months when they spend more time inside. Allergic pets are often itchy and may experience a thinning or dull coat.
Allergic disease in dogs and cats is managed with a combination of home care, nutritional support, and medical management directed by your veterinarian. Choosing an appropriate, gentle pet shampoo and conditioner is a must when it comes to skin and coat health. In addition to keeping your pet’s coat shiny and clean, regular bathing washes away minuscule allergens that sit in the coat and can trigger allergy symptoms such as itchy or red skin. Look for products free of sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, and alcohol to avoid drying out sensitive skin. Aloe is especially soothing!
Keep Skin in Tip-Top Shape
The skin is the largest organ in the body and, as you can imagine, plays a vital role in health. Skin in poor shape is prone to infection and less effective in its job as a barrier between the world and all the organs within.
Cold air can be drying to the skin. While we often attend to our own dry, chapped limbs with soothing balms, rubbing lotion all over a pet’s fur-covered skin isn’t something most pet owners want to deal with. To help the skin from the inside, look for pet supplements with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Why are fatty acids so important? These fats are essential components of cell membranes, helping to ensure the cells are impervious to the bad stuff while letting the good nutrients through. While you see skin supplements utilizing essential fatty acids from a variety of plant sources, the best ones for pets are made from fish.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are divided into two categories: omega-6 and omega-3. Many sources of EFAs are very high in omega-6 but are significantly lower in omega-3s, which are essential for both dogs and cats. Without going into too much detail, fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and contains these in much higher quantities than other types of fatty acid supplements.
Manage Stress and Boredom
As the holidays approach, pets may be affected by unfamiliar house guests and altered routines. Separation anxiety or boredom can result in destructive chewing, excessive barking, or house soiling.
Attention and reassurance can be very helpful for stressed-out pets, who thrive when owners maintain a predictable routine. Take some time every day for exercise and playtime. If you know ahead of time that your pet is about to experience an anxiety-provoking situation, consider having some calming supplements on hand to help take the edge off. Of course, the best approach to anxiety in pets is to get to the root cause, but a multi-pronged approach to reducing stress can provide both them and you some much-needed relief!
Calming herbs and supplements may include chamomile, St John’s wort, valerian, melatonin, or other combinations; each one works differently so you may need to experiment to see which one is most helpful for your pet. If you are giving a supplement, make sure it’s one specifically for pets!
There’s no reason the changing seasons need to be a source of stress for pets. With a little forethought and lots of love, your pets can enjoy winter right alongside you.