Winter snow and cold temperatures have arrived early in Northeast Ohio, and forecasts are calling for a long, cold one. That doesn’t mean, however, that your pets are stuck inside for the next few months. A few precautions and some common sense should allow your dogs and cats to roam as they please and stay inside only when necessary.

Weather forecasts this year are calling for some exceptionally cold temperatures, so remember to take the same precautions for your pets that you would for yourself. Protect extremities and limit time outside if you or your pet are feeling uncomfortable.

In general, if it’s too cold for you to be outside for more than a few minutes, it probably is for your dog or cat, too. If it is below 0, forego the walk and lock the doggy and kitty door, so your beloved pet doesn’t sneak out and risk injury. For more typical winter temperatures, get into a routine that protects your pet from cold, chemicals and inappropriate diet.

Cats

It is best to keep your cat indoors year-round, but for those that insist on roaming and exploring, be sure to check their fur and paws for debris and road salt. Do your best to wash deicing chemicals off fur and paws so they do not ingest them.

Use care when starting your car in the winter. Your cat or a neighbor’s cat may crawl onto the engine block for warmth during these cold months. A brief rap on the hood should wake any napping cats.

Dogs

Temperatures in the 20s are fine for walking your canines. Be aware that large dogs can tolerate freezing temperatures longer than small dogs, so time your walks accordingly. Tails, ears and paws are the most vulnerable to frostbite, so pay attention to your dog’s behavior and get them to a warm place if they seem to have any discomfort.

Wash paws and stomach after walks to remove road salt and deicing chemicals. Ingesting these chemicals can make your dog sick. If your dog will wear booties, this is the best way to protect from cold and chemicals.

Winter diet for pets

If your pet is primarily outdoors, loves the snow and gets plenty of exercise in the winter, you may consider increasing his or her caloric intake during these months. This keeps your pet at an appropriate level for the exercise, as well as providing nutrients for him to build some fat for warmth. For pets that do not like the cold, dogs who will go out only to potty, cats who prefer roaming only when it is warm outside, a reduction in calories will prevent weight gain during the winter.

Ask your veterinarian for guidelines based on your pet’s habits.