Winter can be a tough season on both people and their pets. Dr. Lauren Hurowitz, a veterinarian with Petside.com, has some basic guidelines to help your furry friends brave the elements.
Cold weather can be dangerous to pets. For this reason pets should never be left outside when it is very cold, and especially not when temperatures are below freezing. When the temperature is below freezing dogs should only be taken out to relieve themselves. Small dogs or dogs that do not have long hair should have jackets and sweaters to protect them from the cold. While it is OK to walk dogs in the cold weather, walks should be shortened depending on the temperature. Pets that have long hair should not be clipped short in the winter because their hair helps to protect them from the cold, but be sure to keep long hair dry and knot-free. It is also a good idea to keep the hair between the toes short to prevent ice accumulation. Toxic substances
- Antifreeze: This is the No. 1 toxic substance that we must be careful about in the winter. Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) smells and tastes sweet to dogs and cats. All it takes is one teaspoon to kill a cat and four teaspoons to kill a dog that weighs less than 10 pounds. Antifreeze is deadly because it causes rapid kidney failure. To avoid ingestion of this toxic substance, make sure that all antifreeze is stored out of pets' reach and any spills are cleaned up. Low Tox is a comercially available product that is a safe alternative to antifreeze. If you think that your pet may have ingested antifreeze, you must contact your veterinarian immediately. While there is a treatment for antifreeze toxicity, it must be administered by a veterinarian within hours of ingestion for it to be effective.
- Rat bait: People tend to use more rat and mouse baits during the winter months because these rodents seek warmth in our homes. The bait is an anticoagulant that can cause fatal bleeding problems in pets. The bleeding is internal and may not be noticed right away. If you think that your pet ingested rat bait, notify your veterinarian. There are blood tests that can diagnose clotting problems and treatment can be administered.
- Salt: Salt is everywhere in the winter months and can be hard to avoid. It can cause irritation to the mouth and paws and, if ingested, can cause drooling, stomach upset and electrolyte imbalances. When salt cannot be avoided, it is a good idea to protect your pets' feet with boots made especially for dogs. Safe Paw is an ice melter that is not salt and is safe for pets and children.
Dryness Just as the heat in our homes can be irritating to us, pets are affected, too. Dry heat in the home can cause itchy/flaky skin, coughs and dry noses! A humidifier can help to keep the air moist and keep the environment comfortable for you and your pet. Pets can also be supplemented with a veterinary-formulated fatty acid supplement to help maintain healthy skin and coats.
Since animals tend to get less exercise in the winter months, they are more prone to weight gain. Depending on your pet's weight, size and nutritional requirements, it may be a good idea to cut down on caloric intake. There are low-calorie pet foods that are available over-the-counter and through veterinary offices. Your pet's food can also be cut down by 10 to 25% and replaced with safe vegetables such as broccoli, string beans and carrots to increase their fiber intake. Be careful with onions — they are toxic to pets! But if your dog does engage in a lot of outdoor activities, weight gain may be a good thing. Increase food supply for an extra layer of fat to keep a pet warm and also to help keep its coat thick and healthy.
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