Is your pet ready for winter? The change of seasons should mean a change of your habits, as far as your pets are concerned.
In cold weather, your dog is probably safe hanging out in the car while you run errands, since an overcast day won't turn the car into an oven. But cold weather also means you should thump the hood of that car before you start the engine, in case your cat is snuggled against the engine, looking for warmth. Some other seasonal reminders:
* If you're into do-it-yourself car care, use caution when changing the antifreeze. The stuff is deadly -- so much so that a cat walking through a puddle of it can die after cleaning fluid off its paws. Collect and dispose of used antifreeze carefully, and waste no time in cleaning up spills.
* Assess your pet's age and condition and make adjustments for the cold. In general, inside pets need less food (to offset a decrease in activity), and outside pets need more (keeping warm requires energy, and food is the fuel).
Cold weather is especially tough on older pets. For the elderly animal, consider adding a sweater and buying a heated mat or bed. Don't use a pad meant for people; those designed for pets have metal tubing around the cord to prevent the animal from chewing on it. (Sweaters and mats are available at reputable pet-supply stores. One mail-order source is J-B Wholesale Pet Supplies; call  526-0388 for a free catalog).
* Look out for pet perils. Cats are notoriously coldblooded, seeking warmth where they can find it -- by the fire, in your lap, on your bed. But two spots that attract them present a great hazard: clothes dryers and car engines.
It's all too easy for a cat to snuggle into a warm dryer, get clothes thrown on top and die as the machine goes through its cycle.
There are some lovely aspects to cold weather and pets -- curling up on the couch with a purring cat on your lap, or walking the dog on a crisp day when the smell of wood smoke hangs in the air. Take whatever precautions necessary to ensure the safety and health of your pet, and you can truly enjoy the season.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.