Winter in Wisconsin has arrived and we need to take extra steps to keep our pets safe, comfortable, and healthy through the cold and snowy months ahead.
Pets’ cold tolerance can vary based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly. You may need to shorten your dog’s walks to protect him from weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and be prone to slipping and falling. If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat.
Paw protection: Keep the hair between the toes clipped to reduce buildup of snow and ice. Massage petroleum jelly or other paw protectants such as Musher’s Paw Care into pads to protect them from chemicals and sand. Proper fitting booties are another good idea to protect the paws. If your pet becomes suddenly lame, pick the paw up and look for an accumulation of ice or snow between toes or a laceration from sharp ice. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals. Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather damage, such as dry, cracked or bleeding pads. Consider using pet-friendly deicing agent on your driveway and walkways.
Another winter hazard is antifreeze. It can be deadly even in small amounts. Keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and stored in areas your pet cannot access. Dispose of used antifreeze containers properly. Check your vehicle’s radiator regularly, and repair leaks. If antifreeze is spilled or leaked, clean it up immediately and thoroughly. If you believe your pet has ingested antifreeze, contact a veterinarian immediately. Some common signs of antifreeze poisoning in dogs and cats include:
- Drunken behavior/ Wobbly, uncoordinated movement
- Excessive urination
- Rapid heartbeat
Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be housed inside. If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, get them inside quickly because these can be signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other colder-climate dogs, are more tolerant of cold weather, but no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather.
If you absolutely cannot keep your pet inside during cold weather, provide them with a warm, solid, shelter against wind. Make sure they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently and using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds. Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Use heated pet mats with caution because they are capable of causing burns.
Lastly, a warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor cats and other animals, but it can be deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage at-risk animals to move along. Not only can you save a life with these simple gestures; you can also avoid damage to your vehicle.
With a little extra care and attention, pets can safely enjoy our Wisconsin winters. You and your veterinarian, together, can help make this happen.
For new clients - mention this article and receive a free housecall. You can contact Dr. Karen Bryant at To Your Door Veterinary Health and Wellness (phone) 608-335-5777, (email) DrBryant@ToYourDoorVet, or web address www.ToYourDoorVet.com