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How to Protect Your Two- and Four-Legged Family Members From Winter’s Wrath

Deborah Mandell, VMD, DACVECC

American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council; Professor, Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital, University of Pennsylvania

As we welcome in the colder weather, the Red Cross is offering tips to help keep your family and pets safe and warm.

Heat your home safely

Be cautious when turning the heat back on for the cold months. Make sure to keep children, pets, and anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from all heating sources, especially space heaters. Additionally, never leave a lit fireplace unattended or uncontained by a glass or metal screen. Be careful with candles as well — never leave them burning and consider using flameless ones.

The winter season means a higher risk of home fires but taking proper preventive measures can help to avoid these devastating incidents. As part of your preparedness action steps, the Red Cross urges everyone to test their smoke alarms monthly and practice their fire escape plans with all household members at least twice a year.

Don’t let your pipes freeze

Water expands as it freezes. If you live in a colder region, the water in your pipes can freeze, putting immense pressure on and sometimes breaking your pipes. 

The best way to avoid frozen pipes is to help prevent them in the first place. Before the cold weather sets in, take a look around your house for any exposed outdoor pipes, uninsulated water supply pipes, and pipes that run along exterior walls. Do what you can to make sure all these pipes have proper insulation but if you are in a pinch, wrap them in at least a quarter inch of newspaper to provide much needed protection. 

You can also help prevent your pipes from freezing by opening kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to let warm air circulate, letting water trickle through the pipes to keep them from freezing, and keeping the temperature inside your home at or above 55° F.

Keep your pets warm

If possible, bring your pets inside during the cold weather. If your animals must stay outside, make sure they are sheltered, and have unblocked access to food and unfrozen water. Make sure the sheltered area is large enough to allow the pet to sit and lie down, but small enough to hold in their body heat. Raise the floor a few inches off the ground and cover it with cedar shavings or straw, and make sure to cover the doorway to prevent rain or snow from getting in.

Always wipe your dog’s paws when they come inside inside to clean off salt, chemicals, and ice. This will also give you an opportunity to check for wounds.

Keep your pets away from antifreeze as well. This is highly toxic to dogs and cats.

Additionally, you can download the free Red Cross Pet First Aid App for more safety tips and guidance on what to do in case of an emergency until veterinary care is available.

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