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Winter-proofing Your Pet

by Chris Jonard

Snow, ice, snow shovels, scarves, hot chocolate, warm fireplaces; all of these indicate another winter season is upon us. Winter can pose a threat to our outdoor pets, and even the indoor ones, if we are not prepared. There are a few things to watch out for this winter...such as antifreeze, salt, snow, and hypothermia (or low body temperature).

Antifreeze is a killer. Vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy may be early signs of antifreeze poisoning. Later signs include acting drunk or disoriented and becoming comatose. Even the smallest amount is extremely toxic to pets of all sizes! Please, keep this away from your pets. It has a sweet smell that attracts curious critters, and once ingested, there is little that can be done to help. Ethylene glycol, the toxic element of antifreeze, attacks the kidneys and nervous system, and is bad, bad news. Keep all antifreeze out of reach, and if your car is leaking it, make sure you clean it up well, and fix the problem as soon as possible. Call your veterinarian immediately if you think your pet might have gotten into antifreeze.

The salt we use to de-ice our sidewalks can be an irritant to our pet's paws. It can irritate the feet and cause dried and cracked pads. The best bet is to use an animal safe de-icer, which is sold in most pet stores, or wash their feet with warm water after coming in. This should help remove the irritating salt, as well as dislodge any snowballs that they have collected. Keeping the hair between their toes short will also help prevent unwanted snow from tagging along indoors. Shorter hair between their toes will help with traction, too, as well as having their nails clipped short. Long nails can cause their feet to splay, and affect their grip.

Those with toy breeds might notice small puddles appearing indoors in the winter. Small dogs generally don't like snow, and will slink off to answer nature's call indoors. This can be annoying, at the very least. One way to combat the problem is to go back to "housetraining boot camp." Take out Fifi at regular intervals throughout the day, and if she does not go, or cannot be watched, put her in a crate. After a few days of this, she should catch on. If she is still having problems, you might want to consider shoveling a small portion of the yard for her to use (this is better than cleaning the carpets everyday, right?). In severe weather, the smaller dogs are really at a disadvantage in the snow, especially if it is deep. They might benefit from wearing outer garments, such as coats, sweaters or even booties, when they go outdoors.

Hypothermia is not a common problem with most dogs. When the days start to get shorter, the double-coated dogs (huskies, German Shepherds, etc.) start to grow their double coat to insulate them from the cold. They will also want to eat more, to pack on the winter weight. (Outdoor dogs should get more food-indoor dogs don't need it, even though they might think they do!) However, hypothermia can be problems for short haired dogs (like Chihuahuas), and dogs that are left out in severe weather. When a dog shivers, it is trying to increase heat production by moving their muscles. Generally, this is enough to prevent hypothermia. However, if your dog is short haired, geriatric or a puppy, they should not be left outside for prolonged periods of time, or without supervision. Their feet get cold quickly, and you might have to rescue a shivering pooch that refuses to walk through the snow.

If yours is an outdoor dog, provide him with a shelter that is big enough for him to turn and lie down in, only. Smaller sizes trap the warmth. Good bedding, such as hay or straw, will help keep him dry and warm. A canvas or carpet flap over the door will help to keep out the wind and keep in the heat. Generally, dogs can take the cold if they are used to it. However, as the temperatures plummet, both dogs and cats should be brought inside the garage. Try to avoid bringing the pet into the house where the heat is on-with his thick winter coat he will be hot and the sudden temperature shift could cause him problems.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to spend a safe winter with your pet. Keep warm!