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Canine Trauma

Prepping Your Pet For the Winter Blues

Written by: Tracy Vogel, Staff Writer -

As the temperature drops, people begin taking steps to ensure their health and safety over the winter months’warmer clothes, careful driving, a medicine cabinet well-stocked with cold remedies.

The risks rise for everyone as cold sets in, and that includes your pet... although you probably won’t sense that as your cat idly watches from her warm spot at the window while you shovel a foot of concrete-consistency snow off your driveway.

"Some people don’t get it and don’t think of anything," said Dr. Ken Katz of Colfax East Animal Hospital, Denver, Colo. "In reality, you should think of a lot of things in the winter."

In the fall, before the worst sets in, you should test your outdoor pets for parasites and do any necessary deworming, said Dr. Diana Durling of the Animal Clinic of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan. Parasites will lead to weight loss in the best of times, and winters are stressful enough on pets as it is.

Pets should also be kept up-to-date on their vaccinations during the winter, Dr. Durling said. People assume that rabies-bearing animals hibernate in that season, and some of them do’but there are still plenty of animals wandering around that can carry the virus.

One of the biggest winter dangers is antifreeze, veterinarians said. The green liquid is sweet-tasting and extremely poisonous’a teaspoon can be deadly to a cat, and less than a tablespoon can kill a 10-pound dog.

According to a study conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ National Animal Poison Control Center, most cases of antifreeze poisoning occur around the pet’s own home, and are usually due to improper storage or disposal.

"If you’re slopping and leave just a little puddle under the car, the cats and dogs will lick it, and it puts them into kidney failure pretty quick," Dr. Katz said.

Keep the antifreeze off the floor and away from the pets, being careful not to spill it. A less toxic antifreeze is also available in stores.

If your pet does get into antifreeze, get it to the veterinarian immediately. Symptoms of toxicity include increased thirst, urination, mental depression or a wobbly gait, Dr. Katz said.

Antifreeze isn’t the only dangerous item a pet can chow down on during the winter. Christmas means tinsel, lights, and extension cords all over the place.

Tinsel or ribbon, harmless as it looks, can be hazardous to dogs and cats. Swallowed, it refuses to move, and as the intestine contracts, it can cut through the intestine’s wall, Dr. Katz said. Electrical cords, if chewed on, can cause a shock that will burn the mouth and sometimes cause a pulmonary edema’meaning fluid builds up in the lungs.

Even food can be a problem if mishandled. Chocolate is poisonous to dogs. Overeating’if you scrape all your leftovers onto the dog’s plate, or he gets into the garbage’can cause bloating, upset stomach and even pancreatitis, an inflammation in which the pancreas digests itself, Dr. Katz said. One large meal with the wrong elements can trigger the reaction, he said. Turkey strings and bones are particular problems at holiday time.

Just as the chill outside poses dangers to humans, pets can suffer from the cold. If your dog isn’t accustomed to being outside, this isn’t the time to introduce him.

If the dog has been an indoor dog, his body won’t have developed the thick coat necessary to keep him warm during the winter months, Dr. Durling said. Dogs with skin problems should also have been tended to months earlier, or their coats won’t be warm enough to withstand the temperatures.

That said, many dogs are fine outdoors in the winter as long as they have a shelter’though that doesn’t include breeds like poodles that need to have their hair clipped. Fine-haired dogs are inside pets and shouldn’t be kept outdoors in the winter.

If you keep your pets outside, you must provide them with a shelter from the wind, such as a garage. A doghouse should be well insulated and have a tunnel-style entrance that doesn’t let the wind penetrate, said Becky Stewig, a licensed veterinary technician with Kindness Animal Hospital, Grand Forks, N.D.

The shelter should be off the ground. Otherwise, moisture accumulates inside, forming ice crystals and freezing the bottom of the shelter, Ms. Stewig said. Even in a place like a garage, the pet should be off the cold floor’that may mean just a carpet to insulate it from the chill, Dr. Katz said.

And speaking of ice, remember that water freezes’including the water in dog bowls. Thirsty pets will try to cope by eating snow, which only lowers their body temperature more, Ms. Stewig said.

If your cats hang around in the garage, check your car before you leave. Cats like to sleep on warm engines, so if you can’t find your cat, look under the hood, Ms. Stewig said.

Your pets will continue to need exercise in the winter. Fine-haired dogs should wear a winter coat to maintain their body heat, Dr. Durling said.

Booties are also preferable to bare pads, Ms. Stewig said. Paws crack in the cold and don’t heal easily, since the pet puts constant pressure on the wound.

Trust your pet’s judgement about the weather, she added. "You kind of have to go with what the pet wants to do’if he doesn’t want to walk around the block, then don’t make him walk around the block. Throw a ball in the house instead."

Article republished here with permission from
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