On the days when the Mercury drops, one should be mindful of the effects winter has on pets.
First, I encourage pet owners to keep their pets indoors when the temperature dips. They have plenty of time in the other seasons to enjoy the outdoors.
Pets are equipped with fur, but not all pet’s furs are a sufficient insulator for winter. Pets with short hair, or are very small, or very thin with little fat, are not equipped to deal with frosty weather. Keep in mind that dogs that are kept mainly indoors may not get the opportunity to build up a proper winter coat. Also, it’s important to remember that wet fur’s ability to insulate, reduces significantly.
Using a pet’s sweater or a waterproof jacket for animals that are exposed to the weather for more than just a brief walk is very recommended. Cats that have an access to the outdoors and small wildlife tend to look for a warm place to hide. It is very common for cats to go under the hood of cars. If you park your car outside, I strongly recommend you to honk the horn of your car, before you start it, to give a potential intruder an opportunity to escape.
Just like us, our pets have different nutritional requirements when it is colder out. Keeping normal body temperature requires energy burning. Pets that are kept outdoors should be fed about 25% more than their normal diet in the summer.
Horse owners: prepare proper shelter for your animal. Make sure it has a well isolated and protected area to sleep in. Pad the ground with blankets. Deeply bedded straw is another good insulator. Make sure the area is not exposed to drafts and stays dry at all times.
Hypothermia occurs when an animal has been exposed to very cold temperatures and/or wind for an extended period of time. Symptoms include: low body temperature, shivering, clumsiness and stumbling, drowsiness and exhaustion. Animals in this condition should be placed immediately in a warm place. Cover your animal with warm blankets and contact your vet for further advice.
Many people do not associate dehydration with the winter season, but in fact dehydration is very common in dogs that are kept outdoors. When the temperature drops the pet’s drinking water may freeze and therefore put the pet at risk of dehydration. Using a heated drinking bowl can prevent this problem from happening. Special heated bowls are available in a variety of pet stores.
It is very important to maintain the dog’s physical activity in the winter time, so don’t avoid walking your dog outside. Having said that, it is crucial to try to protect them from frost bite. Dog’s ears, paws and tails are especially susceptible to frostbite. Initially, frostbitten tissue may appear pale or gray in color. The area will be cold to the touch, and hard. As the area thaws, it may become red. In severe frostbite, within several days the tissue will start to appear black and tough. In order to prevent that, when you return home from your walk, dry up your dog, clean your dog’s paws and remove all the snow remnants. Dogs with furry paws are more prone to get frost bite from the snow that gets trapped between the toes.
We tend to see lots of orthopedic injuries such as ligaments tearing in the knees due to slipping on the ice. When you take your dog to run and play in the snow, make sure that there are no icy areas on which the dog can slip without the ability to control its movements.
The same as with Humans, cold weather aggravates arthritis in pets. If your pet is having trouble getting up or laying down, navigating the stairs, or has started to snap or cry when picked up, it’s probably time to consult your veterinarian on some remedies for arthritis relief.
When you are winterizing your car, keep in mind that one of the most common reasons for rushing into vets offices in the winter time is antifreeze poisoning. The antifreeze we use in our vehicles is toxic to pets. Unfortunately it has a pleasant taste, so pets enjoy licking it. Antifreeze has a severe toxic effect on the kidneys which may be lethal. When you place antifreeze in your car, make sure your pet is not around. Make sure to clean any leaks on the ground thoroughly. Store the antifreeze container in a non accessible place for pets. A pet that ingested antifreeze will look like it has been drinking alcohol. The list of symptoms you may observe are staggering, confusion, disorientation, excessive thirst and urination, vomiting and listlessness. If you suspect that your pet got exposed to antifreeze, take it to your vet ASAP.
Cold-weather pet care is a matter of compassion and common sense. Use both in equal measure, and your pet will get through the winter safe and happy.