With temperatures dropping and snow on the ground in many parts of the country, you may already be turning up the heat and bundling up before you go outside. But we're not the only ones who need to prepare for winter weather.

The four-legged members of your family need to take some extra precautions as well to stay safe and warm this winter. Here are tips to keep your furry friends happy and healthy this season.

Keep pets indoors

cat looking out window at snowDogs and cats are safest indoors and should only venture outside for exercise. Just as you're sensitive to temperature, so are your pets, and cats and dogs are also at risk for frostbite and hypothermia when they're outside in cold weather. Exposed skin on their noses, ears and paws are especially susceptible to cold.

If your dog must spend several hours outdoors, provide a dry shelter that's large enough to allow him to sit and lie down but small enough to hold in body heat. The shelter floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with straw or shavings.

Provide adequate food and water

Pets who spend time outdoors require more food in winter because keeping warm depletes energy. PetSmart suggests "heating up a can of soup (chicken noodle is a doggy delight) and mixing in food for a satisfying stew."

Check your pet's water bowl often, especially if it's outside, and make sure the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use a plastic water bowl instead of metal so that when the temperature drops, your pet's tongue doesn't stick to the bowl.

Stay warm

dog in sweater standing in snowDon't shave your pets during the winter, and if you bathe them, be sure to dry them completely before taking them outside. If your dog has short hair, you may want to get a coat or sweater to provide extra warmth.

How do you tell if your pet is cold? Feel the animal's body to see if he's shivering. Typically, larger pets and those with longer fur can tolerate cold weather for longer periods of time.

Wipe those paws

Antifreeze, salt and other chemicals often used during winter can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Cats and dogs may also lick their paws and ingest potentially dangerous substances. To prevent this, wipe your pet's paws with a damp towel when she comes inside from walking on snow or ice.

Never leave a pet alone in the car

Cars can act as refrigerators during winter, holding in the cold temperatures and causing hypothermia or even death, so bring your pet with you or leave him at home.

Treat dry skin

Winter's cold air can cause dry, irritated skin, but there are several ways to treat the condition. Bathe pets less often, and use a moisturizing shampoo made just for them. Also, brush them frequently to remove excess fur and dander.

Take care of outdoor animals

stray cat in snowThe warm engine of parked cars can be attractive to cats and other wildlife, so they may be tempted to crawl under the hood. To avoid causing injuries, bang on the hood of your car to scare them away before you start the engine.

If you see an animal left outside in the cold, document what you see and report it to your local animal control agency.

And remember that strays need help in the winter months too. Here's how you can help care for feral cats, as well as other strays who need a little extra help to survive the cold.

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Photos: (cat looking out window) Lori L. Stalteri/flickr, (dog in snow) funkblast/flickr, (stray cat) gypsy in moda/flickr