By Dr. Jack Stephens
With winter well underway, you’ve probably spent time and energy to winterize your house and your car. But have you thought about winterizing for your pet?
Severely cold weather brings threats to pet health and safety, and many of these might shock or surprise you. Here we have listed some of the most serious threats and what you can do to avoid them:
Killer Wind Chill – Dogs who spend plenty of time outdoors, even if protected by a doghouse, run a risk of death due to the cold. The doorway of your dog’s house should be faced away from the wind or covered. Also, the house should be well-insulated and just big enough for them to stand up, turn around, and lie down inside comfortably. A doghouse that is too big won’t contain your dog’s body heat and stay warm. For multiple dogs, consider a house large enough to let them cuddle together.
Undernourishment/Dehydration – In cold weather, keeping warm requires a lot of energy. If your dog or cat spends a lot of time outside, you’ll want to increase their supply of food, particularly protein, to keep them—and their fur—in tip-top shape. Also, outdoor pets may become dangerously dehydrated if their water freezes solid. A good heated water bowl prevents this problem.
Severely Dry Skin – The air in most houses becomes dry during the colder months, depleting moisture from dog skin and fur. A dog whose skin is dry and itchy may habitually scratch or bite at their skin, possibly creating sores or “hotspots.” To improve skin, coat and circulation, brush your dog vigorously and regularly. Dogs with dry skin may benefit from fatty acid supplements during the winter. Also, pet shampoos formulated with oatmeal can help soothe dry skin.
Catastrophic Car Trouble – Outdoor cats are often drawn to the warmth of a parked car’s engine, and may cuddle up beneath the car or inside the engine compartment. They run the risk of serious injury or death if the engine is started, so knock on the hood of your car or honk the horn to warn cats away before you turn the key.
Chemical Poisoning – Antifreeze that leaks or spills from your car’s radiator can kill dogs and cats alike. They are attracted by the sweet taste of the antifreeze, which almost always results in death of the pet unless treated immediately. Keep antifreeze containers sealed tight and out of reach, and clean spills immediately. Consider using antifreeze that is free of ethylene glycol, the component that makes antifreeze both sweet and toxic.
Chemicals and salts that are used to melt winter ice on sidewalks and roads can also be poisonous. Dogs and cats can pick them up on the pads of their feet during a walk; afterward, licking their paws could cause stomach upset or illness. It’s best to rinse the pet’s paws with lukewarm water as soon as possible after each outing.
Tongue Injuries – In freezing temperatures, metal bowls and buckets pose a threat. Pets’ tongues can stick to the cold metal, and animals can injure themselves trying to pull away. For safety’s sake, switch to plastic or ceramic-type pet bowls when it’s below 32 degrees outside.
Frostbite Injuries – Even short-term exposure to temperatures below zero can lead to frostbite of the feet, nose or ears. In these areas the skin might appear red, gray or whitish and could peel. Prevent frostbite by removing ice and snow from paws and fur right away. Balls of ice can form in the areas between the toes and toe-pads; you may want to clip the fur between toe pads to reduce the amount of snow that collects there.
Hypothermia Alert – Dogs and cats who lack thick fur coats and have low body fat reserves are generally not suited for cold temperatures. Pets who are old or who have been ill can also be sensitive to winter weather. When it’s frigid outside, it is especially important to keep them indoors or to provide a warm shelter outside the house. Consider dressing Fido in a warm dog sweater or jacket whenever you go for a walk.
Fire Danger – Portable space heaters may be handy, but in homes with active dogs and cats they could be deadly. Every year, numerous house fires start with space heaters knocked over by pets. If you choose to use one, make sure it is the type that will shut off automatically when it is tipped.
Lost Dogs – More dogs are reported lost during the winter than any other season, as canines often lose track of scent trails in the snow and can become disoriented. Dogs may also panic during snow storms and run away. When outside a fenced yard, dogs should always be kept on leash and should wear current identification tags.
By Dr. Jack Stephens