Winter woes - keeping pets protected during cold months

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Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jan 27 2011

We may all be dreaming of spring and warmer weather (unless you’re lucky enough to live where the weather is always perfect, in which case – can we come?), but cold weather worries are still very real for most of us, and our pets. Keeping your pets safe and comfortable when the temperature drops can be a challenge, but one that you can thankfully manage with a bit of preparation and know-how.

Don’t Flake Out

Low temperatures combined with low humidity can lead to dry, itchy skin, especially in pets affected by seasonal allergies. If winter itch has your pet scratching for summer, think about using a humidifier in your home or adding Omega-3 fatty acids to your pet’s diet. Using a pet-approved moisturizing spray or rinse can also help relieve some winter skin issues. By taking care of winter itch early, you can prevent more serious (and costly) conditions from occurring, like skin infections or hot spots.

Snow Before You Go

When snow is on the ground, do your best to keep your dog on the leash at all times. With landmarks and scents covered by snow, she could very easily lose her way. In fact, more dogs are lost during the winter months than any other season. It is particularly important to keep ID tags with current information on your pet’s collar, especially in the winter. Better yet, make an appointment with your veterinarian to get your pet microchipped. This permanent ID can make all the difference in bringing a lost dog home.

Slippery Slopes

Just because our pets have four feet doesn’t mean they are any more graceful than we are when it comes to navigating slippery ice. A simple slip on the ice can cause serious injury, especially in geriatric pets, so scout the terrain before your next winter hike. Don’t forget that ice can be hiding under new snowfall, so giving the sidewalk a two-legged test run isn’t a bad idea. And avoid letting your dog near frozen lakes or streams—falling through thin ice into shockingly cold water can lead to hypothermia (or worse) very quickly, and rescuing a pet from freezing waters is no safe task.

Chemical Reactions

Chemicals that we use to counteract the cold are dangerous to our pets. Salt and other de-icers can be caustic to our pet’s paws and can cause sickness if licked, so be sure to wipe down their feet after they come in from the cold. Pets with sensitive skin or those that love to lick their paws clean may benefit from the use of booties during ice and snow. A common household item in the winter, antifreeze is particularly dangerous – just a small amount can cause kidney failure and death in cats and dogs. The ethylene glycol in antifreeze gives it a sweet but deadly taste, putting pets at risk to accidental poisoning if they decide to sample some from the garage floor. Clean up any leaks or puddles immediately and only buy antifreeze that has a bitter flavor added to prevent unwanted ingestion.

Joint Decisions

Cold weather aggravates arthritis in dogs and cats, especially those who are long in the tooth. Watch for signs of discomfort and consider adding supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin to help with joint pain. There are several pain control options for pets with arthritis. Visit your veterinarian to determine the best option for your pet, and never give over the counter human pain medication to your pet without checking with your veterinarian first.

Think Outside the Box

If your pet loves to be outside even when the mercury drops, take a few extra precautions. Check your pet’s water bowl twice a day to ensure that the water is not frozen and increase the amount of high quality food you are feeding, since energy requirements increase in the winter for outdoor pets. Outdoor kitties will seek warmth, and very often find it under the hood near the warm engine of a car. Always bang on the hood of your car before you start it in the winter to avoid accidental injury to a neighborhood cat.

Hearty Heartworms

Finally, even though it’s freezing outside, don’t forget monthly heartworm prevention. Mosquitos are not a threat for most of us during the winter, but heartworm preventatives also contain medication to treat intestinal parasites. These parasites are quite hardy and can survive freezing temperatures, but are easily treated with the monthly preventatives you are already giving.