Tips to Help Your Pet Avoid Winter Dehydration

Ever notice your cat has more dandruff during the winter? Or that your dog is drinking more than usual when the temperatures plummet?

Many pet owners may be surprised to learn that dehydration is as much of a risk in the winter as in the summer. And not only because of those nasty electric shocks we all dread.

Dogs and cats that get dehydrated in the winter may experience excessive lethargy, skin irritation and hot spots, and, in extreme cases, kidney failure.

Here is everything you need to know about winter dehydration and how you can help your pet avoid it.

Why is your pet dehydrated in the winter?

Summertime dehydration is easy to understand. It’s hot out and your dog or cat overheats. Because they can’t sweat, they start panting. Respiration requires moisture and the more your pets pant, the more moisture they lose.

Wintertime can be as dehydrating as summer, but the how is different. Cold air holds less moisture than warm air. And when air is low in humidity, it sucks up whatever moisture it comes across… including the moisture in your pet’s body. It’s why your own skin is prone to dryness in the winter.

Adding heat, via forced air or a furnace, warms the air but it doesn’t increase the amount of moisture in the air. So, whether you’re outdoors playing in the snow or staying warm indoors, you and your pet are continually exposed to dry air all winter long.

And that leaves your pets in a constant state of dehydration, which can affect them both internally and externally.

What are the symptoms of winter dehydration in your dog or cat?

Winter dehydration in your pets can present in several ways, from increased thirst to copious amounts of dandruff.

Here are the most common symptoms of winter dehydration in your pet:

  • Increased thirst
  • Sleepiness or lethargy
  • Increased dandruff
  • Flaky, itchy skin
  • Dry, cracked nose
  • Cracked, scabby skin
  • Hot spots
  • Skin tenting
  • Sunken eyes

And don’t forget those awful electric shocks that sneak up on you and your pet when the air is too dry. If you notice sparkly electric lights in your pet’s fur while petting him in the dark, you can be sure the air is too dry inside your home.

How to Relieve Your Pet's Winter Dehydration

Use a Humidifier

The only way to add moisture to your house in the winter is with a humidifier. These handy devices turn water into vapor, which disseminates throughout your home. This gives the dry air something to leach moisture from instead of you or your pet.

Ideally, you want to reach a humidity level of between 45% and 50%.

Encourage Drinking

Keeping your pet hydrated internally is one of the best ways to protect him from all the side-effects of winter dehydration. When your dog or cat drinks plenty of water, he’ll be less likely to suffer from dry skin, which means less itchiness, flaking and dandruff.

Make sure you’re keeping your pets’ water bowls full of clean water and watch their intake to make sure they’re drinking enough. If you feel like your pet isn’t drinking enough, try flavoring the water with bone or chicken broth to make it tastier.

You can also add some water to your dog or cat’s kibble for extra moisture. If you normally feed your pets an all-dry food diet, consider adding wet food or a topper to their meals to get a little extra moisture into them.

Brush Your Pet

Some dog and cat owners associate regular brushing with shedding season. But brushing your pet’s fur also stimulates the production of their natural oils. Brushing also distributes natural oils throughout their fur and skin, which can protect and help heal drying and already dry skin.

Here are 6 must-know tips for grooming your dog in the winter.

Skip a Bath... or Two

Dog owners should bathe their pups less often in winter, as bathing removes their skin’s natural oils. Plus, hot water dries the skin out. If you absolutely must bathe your dog, use a moisturizing shampoo or conditioner formulated for dogs and stick to lukewarm water.

Add Omegas to Their Diet

Adding omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids can help counterbalance some of the skin-related effects of winter dehydration. Both omegas help maintain healthy skin and can ease itchiness, flakiness, and even soothe hot spots.  

Omegas can be introduced via commercial foods formulated with omegas in them, as a treat like a teaspoon of salmon or coconut oil or a daily supplement that includes a blend of ingredients. (You might want to talk to your vet about how much is the right amount of omegas for your dog’s size, breed, and age.)

Use a Topical Moisturizer

Keeping your pet hydrated is the best defense against winter dryness, but a moisturizer can’t hurt. Moisturizers made for dogs and/or cats can soothe dry skin, stop itchiness and prevent hot spots, and reduce flakes and dandruff.

Similarly, you can find doggy nose balms created for dry canine noses to help heal and prevent painful chapping.

But remember, topical moisturizers treat the symptoms of dehydration. They don’t prevent it.