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How about this weather folks? The polar vortex brings back memories of the cold, dark winters of my childhood in northern New England. The below freezing days and snowy nights remind me of school ski trips, epic snowball battles and warming up with some hot cocoa by the fireplace. As fun as reminiscing is, I do need to take extra time and care this time of year to keep my loved ones and myself safe. My pets are an important part of my family and they require special consideration. Since I’m sure you feel the same way, I will share some important winter safety tips.
Alas, gentle readers, this arctic weather has really taken a toll on my morning snooze button time. This time of the year my quick exit strategies to get my son to daycare and myself to OCVH each morning needing major adjustments. We both have to perform what seems like an epic search for boots, coats, gloves, ice crampons (of course I jest) and other essential winter gear before heading out to the car. Wouldn’t life be easier if we all had natural winter gear – like a nice fur coat perhaps? This cold weather should not be any problem for our cats and dogs right? For some breeds this is true, but most of our furry companions are used to living inside. Since most dogs and cat spend all year in our warm houses, they often do not develop a full winter coat needed to sufficiently protect them for long periods outside in the extreme weather. Also, remember that the coat is of limited benefit if it gets wet. Do not count on your pet’s coat to completely protect him or her from the terrible weather we have been having lately. Sure those sweaters and booties may look silly, but some breeds need help staying warm. I would not let my son go outside without a coat and you should not let your Doberman puppy or Chihuahua go out unprotected either. Also, use common sense about how long your pet is allowed outside. Watch for signs that Fido really needs to come back in, such as shivering, holding up paws, reluctance to move, whining, or scraping at the door.
Although your dog would never admit it, he or she may be hiding a health condition that could put them at greater risk in the cold weather. Problems like kidney disease, diabetes or heart disease can compromise the body’s ability to deliver the proper amount of blood to the vital organs in times of stress. Without proper blood supply these pets have a very hard time keeping themselves warm which puts them at higher risk for having rapid worsening of their disease or developing secondary diseases. Additionally, older pets with arthritis are sure to have a harder time when the temperatures drop. Activities like climbing the stairs or walking down the block can be very difficult when it is cold and icy outside. Monitor your furred senior citizens closely and be aware that there are medical measures that we can take to keep your pet comfortable this winter. Anti-inflammatory medications, targeted laser therapy with a K-laser and intelligent exercise restriction are all proven methods to keep your older dog or cat enjoying his or her days, even when it cold and nasty outside.
When bringing your pet outside in the cold, be sure to watch for shivering, whining, decreased response to your voice or command and unwillingness to move. All of these can be warning signs for hypothermia. If noted, your pet should be brought to a warm place immediately. Pets with thin fur coats or minimal coverage of high-risk areas, like the tail or ears, need to be monitored very closely. Be sure to use common sense and remember that there truly is some weather that is not fit for man NOR beast.
We have many things that allow us to be more productive and comfortable, even in the worst winter weather. Unfortunately, we need to be cognizant that some of these comforts can also be health risks to our pets. Antifreeze is very sweet and may seem like a tempting treat to your furry pal. However, it is very toxic and the ingestion of even a small amount can be fatal. While there is an antidote, treatment must be started very quickly after exposure to be effective. Please make sure any antifreeze is stored safely away from your little ones (furry or otherwise) and that you check your vehicles regularly for leaks. In addition, certain types of deicers can be toxic or irritating to your pets’ paws. I recommend using pet safe products only and wiping your dog’s feet off after walking outside during the winter months. Also, if you have an open fireplace or use candles, be sure that your pets are not left by unattended when they are lit. No one thinks that their dog would allow their tail to catch on fire or that their cat would really knock over a candle, but it definitely does happen. Space heaters should be used with extreme caution due to the fire hazard and carbon monoxide risks.
I have one final animal care tip during these chilly times. Please be sure to bang on your hood before starting your car engine in the morning. When it is this cold, a nice warm motor compartment may be a tempting night time shelter for neighborhood cats. It is better to scare them away than to have them be badly injured by the moving parts.
Stay warm and safe everyone. Let’s all think warm thoughts and hope Punxsutawney Phil wasn’t totally right!
Zach Weiner DVM