Winter is tough on everyone—our immune systems, skin, and lips struggle to make it through these terribly chilly months. With an endless array of vitamins, lotions, and lip balms, it’s not impossible to make it through without having too much damage done. But we often forget about the wear and tear that these cold days take on our furry friends. Winter can take a toll on our pets, too—and if ignored, you could be looking at an expensive trip to the vet. But there are some easy steps you can take to keep your pet happy and healthy this winter.

With the temperature fluctuating around the freezing point, there’s no escaping the ice and snow. To avoid broken bones and sore bums, salting your stairs and sideways is a must. But typical ice salts are chemical-laden and are harmful to pets, children, and the environment. These salts stick to and burn the paws of our pets, who can then drag the salt into the home and put children at risk, because the chemicals can burn human skin and can be extremely harmful if ingested.

Luckily, there are safe alternatives that are just as effective at eliminating ice without posing harm to the health of our furry friends and family. Safe Paw is a safe, eco-friendly ice melter that can be found at most pet stores, but can even be picked up at ShopRite. If you’re taking your companion out for a walk and can’t avoid their paws being exposed to harmful ice salt, you can pick up a pair of dog booties or one of the many paw protector products, a waxy substance that is applied to the paws before venturing out into the cold. But be warned—I have encountered very few dogs that will happily walk around in dog booties.

Just as our skin takes a beating from the bitter February temperatures, our pets often develop dry, itchy skin in the winter. Applying some moisturizing lotion to their fur will probably just make a mess, and letting them bite and scratch at the problem could result in open wounds, a nasty infection, and an expensive bill at the veterinarian’s office. But there are inexpensive, easy ways to improve your pet’s skin health.

My own dog has always had skin problems—from flaky, itchy patches to red, bloody hotspots—and an expensive trip to the dog doctor never seemed to do much good. Lucky for me, I ended up working at a pet supply store to earn some spending money in between semesters of college—and I learned all of the tips and tricks for caring for my best friend.

Adding oil to your pet’s food can do wonders for their skin, much like taking a fish oil supplement can promote healthy hair and skin in humans. Some options include coconut, hemp, and olive oil. When adding anything to your pet’s diet, it’s important to take it slow and keep an eye out for any adverse effects. For example, I first tried hemp oil with my dog, which upset his stomach—but coconut oil works miracles for his skin and while he might not like the taste, it is worth it to prevent the endless scratching. Try adding a teaspoon of oil to your pet’s dinner and see how it agrees with them before making it a part of their daily meal.

If your dog has already been scratching away all winter and is in need of immediate relief, I can recommend a product that I have also seen amazing results with my own dog. Vetericyn is a non-toxic, steroid- and antibiotic-free wound and skin care product that comes in a spray or a gel that is easy to apply. It’s not the cheapest product on the shelf, with a 4oz spray bottle priced $17.99 online, but the price tag is surely cheaper than a trip to the veterinarian and the results are amazing. Originally designed to treat horse wounds, Vetericyn can be used on any animal and is effective at treating open wounds, skin irritations, burns, hot spots, and insect bites. I personally use it on my own skin for burns and mosquito bites, and will always keep a bottle in the house.

With these inexpensive, hassle-free products, you, your pet, and your children can make it through this winter without stressful, costly trips to the veterinarian or pediatrician.

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