By Dr. Bruce Little
The past couple of weeks have been brutal for our pets who have had to cope with the onslaught of winter weather across the country. First, a winter storm delivering up to 18 inches of snow hit the Midwest then moved off into the Northeast causing power outages, impaired driving conditions, and difficulty for people and their pets. Now a cold Arctic mass has moved across the Upper Midwest with temperatures dipping into the sub-zero category with wind chill factors reaching minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. And our pets are suffering from those conditions. If you’re concerned about your pet’s health during these cold months, find and call a veterinarian.
Here are a few winter pet safety tips for parts of the U. S. that are experiencing harsh winter conditions:
Winter Pet Safety Tips
Know your pets’ cold tolerance limits. Much like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on the thickness of their coat, body fat, activity level and health. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies are more likely to encounter snow-covered or frozen ground. Adjust your winter activities to the level of your pet’s comfort. For winter dog walking, it may be necessary to take more frequent, shorter walks to protect both you and your dog from weather-associated health risks.
Pay special attention to senior pets. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Packed snow and ice may make it difficult for dogs in the cold weather to go to the bathroom especially if they have arthritic hip joints or feet.
Be aware of your pet’s health concerns. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances may have a harder time regulating their body temperature and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young pets, or those with compromised immune systems.
Check your dog’s paws frequently. Cold-weather injury or damage can include cracked pads or bleeding. Sudden lameness may be due to an injury from slipping on slick surfaces, puncture by a sharp object that’s hidden under the snow, and ice or may be due to ice accumulation between the toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of ice ball accumulation for dogs in the cold weather by clipping the hair between their toes during the winter season.
Walking Dogs in Cold Weather
Always use a leash. Using a leash when walking dogs in cold weather means you can choose the most acceptable spot for them to attend to their bathroom needs that exposes them to fewer dangers than they may encounter on their own.
Clean snow and ice off favorite bathroom spots. For inside dwellers that go outside to the bathroom, be sure they find a spot to go that allows them comfort in performing their duties. If their favorite spot is covered with snow or ice, encourage them to pick another spot.
Get your dog a winter coat. Consider a brightly colored, water-resistant coat that can easily be seen in the snow on your dog during these times. During winter dog walking, be sure the coat or sweater is dry as wet clothing can make your pet colder.
And also some booties. When walking dogs in cold weather, it may be beneficial to try booties to keep their feet dry and from gathering snow and ice between their toes. Be sure to practice placing the booties on your dog prior to venturing outside as some dogs simply will not tolerate booties on their feet.
Check their paws. During and after walks, wipe down your dog’s feet, legs, and belly as they may have picked up salt deicers, antifreeze or other chemicals used to melt snow and ice that may be harmful to your pet.
Clean up any antifreeze spills quickly. Even small amounts of antifreeze can be deadly. Also, antifreeze appears to have a sweet taste and dogs in the cold weather will drink more of it than they will water. This may cause kidney damage that leads to severe symptoms, including death.
Dogs in the Cold Weather
Pay attention to dog houses. If your dog stays outside all the time, consider creating a place in the garage or the utility room on those extremely cold nights. Fix a cushioned spot for them to be protected from the cold, wind, rain, and ice that winter storms can bring. If there is no place for them inside, be sure their dog house is weather proofed by covering all the cracks in the sides and roof with material that will withstand the wind and prevent the cold and snow from penetrating into the house. The dog house should have a floor and be elevated off the ground, so the dog’s paws do not touch cold ground. Provide bedding such as old carpets, blankets, bath towels or straw on which they can sleep and to snuggle under for warmth. Make sure fresh water is provided several times per day for dogs in the cold weather, and feed a high caloric dog food to help them ward off the cold.
Make sure pets have proper identification. Pets can become lost while outside in rough, winter conditions due to the snow and ice cover that may change the appearance of their known environment or recognizable scents that might normally aid them in finding their way back home. Make sure dogs in the cold weather have well-fitting collars with all its contact information including address and telephone number. My choice of a permanent pet identification marker is the microchip. Microchips currently used in pets are not a GPS device and cannot track your animal if it gets lost or stolen. However, companies that manufacture microchips maintain a database of all their microchips, that include name of owner, address, and telephone number for finding the original owner of the pet. I believe all pets should be microchipped. Consult with your veterinarian for making sure your dog or cat gets properly identified should it become lost by injecting a permanent microchip under its skin.
Cold Weather and Cats
Cats seem to tolerate the cold temperatures better than dogs; however, we should take special care around cars. Cats will curl up against anything to stay warm including a car engine. Many times, we will get into cars that are left outside only to start the engine and a cat will dart from under the hood having been curled up against the engine or radiator to keep warm. This results too many times in injury to the cat with cuts from the fan or belts or burns. With cold weather and cats, usually a tap on the hood of the car or a honk of the horn will be enough for the cat to escape its warm spot before the car is put into operation.
Preparing for the comfort and well-being of your pets during the trying times of extreme winter weather can be a difficult task if some thought and preparation does not go into the planning stages during ideal weather. Cold weather requires special considerations for the pets, and if the other family members plan for the cold and icy weather, the whole family benefits. Keep these winter pet safety tips in mind, because it’s by far better to be prepared for cold weather and let the pets be a part of the family activities as is normally the case. That makes for a complete and happy family!
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