As the temperatures start to dip here in the deep South, take a few steps to prepare your pet for winter.
Provide shelter for your pets. Thoroughly examine and clean all outdoor housing: make sure your pet isn't sharing their outdoor home with potentially dangerous insects such as black widows or brown recluses. Structural damage such as cracks, rotten wood and improperly secured lids/bases can act as sources for drafts. Consider elevating outdoor pet houses to avoid direct contact with damp cold earth. If possible provide indoor shelter to pets, especially both younger and older pets. Provide indoor raised beds to avoid both drafts and cold floors.Common outdoor exotic pets such as finches and rabbits actually enjoy cooler temperatures but need protection when temperatures approach freezing. Indoor exotic pets such as guinea pigs often have housing placed on the floor and are especially susceptible to drafts. Exotic pet cages and aquariums should be placed against internal walls and away from windows and doors to avoid drafts in winter and fluctuations in temperature in summer.
Provide a source of warmth. Reptiles should have an enclosure ambient temperature approaching 80 degrees fahrenheit, dependent on species. The most common sources of heat for reptile enclosures are also one of the most common sources of injury; monitor closely all heat rock and heat lamp usage to prevent burning and electrical shortage. Wood shavings are commonly used for warmth for dogs and exotic pets. Cedar shavings are a known source of both liver and lung irritation and disease in exotic pets. Pine shavings treated with chlorophyll (green painted shavings) have also been linked to lung irritation in exotic pets. Keep in mind the age and habits of the pet; electrical heating pads/blankets, and water pads/bottles may not be appropriate for younger or chewing pets who may be unsupervised. A safe source of heat for all species (not high enough temperature for reptiles however) is a product called SnuggleSafe (http://www.snugglesafe.ca/) which has been used in veterinary clinics for years due to ease of use (microwave heated), indestructibility and length of heat retention. What about pet clothing? Although many products seem intent on making a fashion statement for your pet, clothing can make a difference in warmth for small and short haired pets.
Frequently brush long haired pets to aid in the growing in of the winter coat by removal of the dead under layer.
In the South it is imperative that dogs (as well as cats) be placed on heartworm preventative year-round. Temperature fluctuations during the winter days combined with increased rainfall lead to increased mosquito populations. Think your pet is safe indoors? Think again, those pests always seem to find a way into your home.
Flea larvae and eggs can lay dormant for months when they find conditions unfavorable, such as cooler temperatures. Winter warming can result in flea populations awakening and invading your unprotected pet and home; it is recommended that flea preventative be used year-round.
Check back for upcoming articles related to subjects introduced in this article
Pets and hypothermia; how cold is too cold and which pets are more susceptible? http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-27592-Jackson-Pet-Health-Examiner~y2009m11d18-Your-pet-and-hypothermia-how-cold-is-too-cold-and-who-is-at-risk
Heartworm preventative; which is best for your pet?
Flea control; which one is best for your pet?