Sunday, November 25, 2012

Baby It’s Cold Outside

The holidays are not the only things approaching.  Winter is on the horizon and while you are putting on your warm coat and gloves, it is time to protect your ever-faithful furry companions from temperatures that dip below freezing, and the harsh environment that ensues.

Even though they are equipped with fur coats, dogs and cats can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia just like humans.  The best way to protect pets during the winter months is simply to bring them inside.  Puppies, kittens, elderly animals, small animals, and any who might be vulnerable to the elements are definitely safer indoors. 

If keeping your dog and/or cat inside is not an option then consider providing a protected, insulated enclosure that will keep them safe from severe conditions.  The structure should not be made of metal, since it is a poor insulator.  Having it raised several inches off the ground and placed in a sunny area during the colder weather will assist in keeping the animal warmer.  Providing a flap over the entrance will aid in keeping out cold breezes.  In addition, bedding should be a thick padding of straw, since blankets, rugs, etc. have a tendency to get wet and freeze.

Keeping your pet well groomed and brushed regularly during the winter months will aid in keeping him warmer.  Knotted or matted hair does not insulate properly and puts the animal at risk.  In addition, never shave your dog in winter, a longer coat will provide extra warmth needed.  Shorthaired animals will benefit from a warm sweater or coat when going outside.  In addition, to protect paws from both snow and chemicals utilize booties.

Since puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, housebreaking may be difficult during these months.  It might be advisable to paper-train the pups inside until the weather warms.  If the dog is elderly or ill, again it is advisable that they only go outdoors for short potty break periods.

In cold weather, cats often take refuge under car hoods to be near warm engines.  Therefore, before starting your car, bang loudly on the hood or honk the horn, to give any cat a chance to escape and avoid serious or fatal injury.

Most people know pets left alone in a car during the heat of summer can die.  The same holds true during the cold of winter.  Cars can get as cold as any refrigerator’s freezer, and pets can easily perish.

Dogs, when snow or ice is on the ground, may lose scent and become disoriented; therefore, it is advisable never to let your dog off leash, especially during snowstorms.  More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure they always wear ID tags and are micro-chipped.

Always be sure to clean off your pet’s legs, feet, and stomach when they come in out of sleet, snow, or ice.  When the pet cleans itself if it ingests salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals it will become sick.  Antifreeze in any amount is a lethal poison for dogs and cats.  Be sure to immediately clean up spills from your vehicle and buy antifreeze made with propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.

Check dog's paws often while in snow.  If the dog is lifting his feet a lot, or seems to be walking strangely, chances are his feet are probably too cold or ice may be forming between the pads, which can lead to frostbite.

Seasonal changes can mean dietary changes for your pet.  In cold weather, animals burn more calories to keep warm.  If your dog spends a lot of time outside, he may need to have his food supply increased, especially protein portions.  However, if your dog is indoors most of the time with decreased activity, then fewer calories are required.  When in doubt, be sure to ask your vet about any dietary changes.  Fresh water is always crucial, be sure it is readily available and check often that it does not freeze.  Remember, pets cannot get enough water from licking ice or eating snow.

If your pet suffers from cold exposure and exhibits such symptoms as violent shivering, listlessness, muscle stiffness, difficulty breathing, and lack of appetite, wrap him in a blanket and go to your veterinarian as soon as possible.  Do not immerse him in warm water and please avoid heating pads, which can cause burns.

Our pets can experience anything from mild discomfort to serious problems when the cold weather arrives.  Taking a few precautions can help in making the winter months comfortable for all.  

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