Pet Health and HVAC: A Guide to Staying Happy and Healthy This Winter

Pet snuggles warm our hearts any time of year. Whether your cherished companion is a dog, cat, bunny, budgie, or reptile, pet health is a prime concern for residents throughout Effingham County, Georgia. Unfortunately, indoor air quality is at its most compromised during the winter months, which is when indoor pets are susceptible to illness and other issues related to temperature extremes and poor air quality. This handy guide will help ensure your pet remains healthy and happy all winter long.

Schedule an Annual Vet Visit

Winter is a good time to schedule your pet’s annual wellness exam, especially if your furry companion is getting up in years. Cold, damp weather can aggravate underlying medical conditions like arthritis, and they may only be noticeable during this time of year. Your vet can perform a thorough examination to make sure your pet is healthy and happy, which can also help alleviate your concerns this season.

Look for Behavioral Cues

As a pet owner, you can already intuitively understand many of your companion’s cues and signals. When a pet is too hot or too cold, he’ll typically exhibit some kind of sign; you just have to be on the lookout for it.

For example, if Fido frequently rests in front of the fireplace or near the furnace vent, the home’s temperature may not be comfortable enough to keep him warm. Cats will even seek shade or fall asleep on a cool bathroom floor when they’re feeling overheated. Alternatively, they’ll find sunny spots near windows when they’re feeling a bit nippy. Pet birds will either fluff out their feathers when they’re cold or seek bird baths when they’re too hot.

These behavioral cues are important to note throughout the year, so get to know your pet and her behavioral quirks. She may just be trying to tell you something.

Understand Your Pet’s Heating and Cooling Needs

Animals have different ways of regulating their body temperatures, so their needs often differ from ours. Cats, for instance, like warmer temperatures than most humans or dogs, and they’ll do just fine with the heater cranked up. Dogs, on the other hand, prefer temperatures more in line with most human preferences. When dogs get too hot, they pant to cool down.

Pets are clever, however, in that they seek out various ways to boost their own comfort levels. During the winter, most cats won’t appreciate it when the household thermostat is set below 60 degrees. If you’re the type who likes to lower the thermostat to 55 degrees at night, you may find yourself sharing your electric blanket with kitty.

Just keep in mind that older pets tend to have less body fat and sparser fur. Suffering from stiff joints and old age can also keep a pet from seeking out warm areas in the home. Providing your pet with extra blankets or programming your digital thermostat to a more comfortable temperature can help.

In general, if you feel comfortable with your home’s indoor temperature, your pets will, as well.

Enjoy Outdoor Time Together

Indoor air quality is worse in the winter than any other time of year. Not only can this affect humans with asthma or allergies, but it can also make your pets ill.

The home harbors a variety of indoor pollutants. From spring to fall, homeowners tend to open windows to let in fresh air, or even take Scruffy to the dog park for some exercise. By contrast, homes are more closed up during the winter and dog parks are deserted. This isn’t a healthy situation for either of you.

When pets are cooped up indoors, you’ll find yourself dealing with more pet dander and fur, which further contribute to allergies. Dust mites, pollen, mildew, combustion appliances, and volatile organic compounds pose a threat to everyone’s health, which is why keeping your HVAC system in working order is crucial.

In addition to having your HVAC system regularly serviced and any indoor air quality products upgraded, give your pets plenty of outdoor time to breathe some fresh air.

Stay on Top of Pet Hair

Since pets stay indoors for longer periods during inclement weather, you’re going to have a bigger pet hair problem than normal. Not only will your surfaces and floors harbor more pet fur, but your HVAC system will, too.

Pet hair is light and easily picked up by circulating air. When this happens, it moves through the home and ductwork via the HVAC system. You may notice your air filters or vents clogging more quickly, and pet hair is generally the prime culprit. Extra pet dander also equals more dust, resulting in dirty, clogged filters. The result is restricted airflow and reduced indoor air quality, and no homeowner wants to deal with that.

Cleaning daily, especially dusting and vacuuming, will help combat the pet fur problem this winter season. You’ll also want to change your HVAC air filters more often. Once a month during the winter is a good rule of thumb, although you should dust or vacuum the vents more often than that.

Consider Coat Length

Maintaining a short cut on your dog may help keep excessive pet hair at bay, but it won’t do your pet any favors if he’s feeling chilly. Short-haired dogs or dogs that have been recently groomed may need you to turn up the heat a couple of degrees. Another option is to buy a cute pet sweater.

Long-haired cats are perfectly suited to cooler temperatures, but your short-haired tabby will probably want a few extra places to snuggle. Since she probably won’t tolerate a pet sweater, a kitty condo or cardboard box filled with blankets may be the perfect solution.

Keep Your Pet Comfortable While You’re Away

If you’re like most people, you may have travel plans over the holiday season. While dogs tend to go along for the ride or enjoy a visit at the kennel, other pets, including cats, do better at home, even when you plan on being gone for several days.

Rather than shut down your HVAC system thinking you’ll save money, however, consider your pet’s comfort. Your cats will be just as affected by the temperature changes as you would be, and you don’t want to upset their routine. You can still save energy while you’re away while reducing the thermostat to a lower temperature. Offering your pet extra water, food, blankets, and toys will also help keep them healthy and occupied.

An even better option is to upgrade to a smart thermostat that allows you to control your home’s HVAC system remotely. Many newer models allow you to adjust your home’s temperatures via your smartphone. You may also consider installing a Wi-Fi camera to monitor your pet from your mobile phone during extended vacations.

Watch for Signs of Distress

Being in Georgia, it’s unlikely that your pet will develop hypothermia this season, but it’s still important to know the signs of distress. If your pet isn’t tolerating the temperatures well, he may be lethargic, shiver violently, pant excessively, have blue gums, lack coordination, or vomit.

Even if the indoor temperature is comfortable to you, a pet with hormonal imbalances, diabetes, or arthritis will be more sensitive to temperature variations. If your pet exhibits any of these alarming signs, take her to the vet immediately.

Invest in Extra Heat Sources for Reptiles and Amphibians

Cold-blooded animals like reptiles and amphibians require supplemental heat to survive. While you may get by without a heat lamp in the summer months, it’s practically a necessity this winter.

Under-the-tank heating pads or over-the-tank heat bulbs are a must for pets requiring higher temperatures to remain healthy. Even different species have different optimal temperature needs, so if you own multiple species, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about what you can do to ensure everyone is enjoying the temperatures they need to survive the winter.

Maintaining a healthy HVAC system complete with indoor air quality-boosting products will help create a healthy environment for both you and your pets regardless of the season. To schedule your next HVAC service or to discuss air quality options, call Byrd Heating and Air Conditioning at 912-373-8447 today.

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