Winter is fast approaching, and with it a whole new set of challenges for you and your pet. A few extra steps can make sure that your pet stays happy, healthy and warm this winter.
When taking your dog for a walk, salt and chemical deicers can leave residue on their paws. This can cause cracked, sore footpads or may lead to gastrointestinal upset if your dog licks these chemicals from his or her paws. Sometimes dogs will build up little balls of ice in between their toes when walking on snow and ice. You can help eliminate this problem by clipping the hair between your dog’s toes. This will provide less surface area for melted ice to stick to and refreeze. You can also rub baby oil on your dog’s feet and in between the toes; this will make the water less able to stick to your dog’s feet, and will also soothe any discomfort. Regularly trimming your dog’s nails will also help reduce this buildup, and improve your dog’s traction, to prevent slipping on ice. Dog booties can also be worn if your dog will tolerate them.
Cats that live outside tend to look for warm places to sleep, and may occasionally crawl up and snuggle next to vehicle engines. Before starting your car this winter, tap on the hood a few times to alert any slumbering felines. You wouldn’t want to accidently hurt them when you start your car!
The holidays are full of things that are fun for people, but can be dangerous for pets. Poinsettias, holly berries, alcoholic beverages, chocolate, mistletoe and antifreeze are all toxic to dogs and shouldn’t be left where a pet might be tempted by them. Other small bits common with holiday décor may not be toxic, but can cause obstruction, which is just as dangerous. Please enjoy responsibly and keep Fido away from dangerous items. If you think your dog may have ingested something toxic, even a few drops of antifreeze, contact your vet immediately. Antifreeze is particularly dangerous because it tastes sweet and can be fatal quickly even in minute amounts. Be sure to clean up any spills and flush the area with water.
Some dogs live outside most of the year, and this is acceptable in winter too, depending on the breed. Longhaired dogs like Huskies and Pomeranians tend to fair better than shorthaired dogs like Greyhounds and Dachshunds. While a dog coat can help keep shorthaired dogs warm, only try it if your dog will tolerate wearing one. An appropriate outdoor shelter should be provided if you plan on keeping your dog outside in winter. Any water left outside will need to be heated or it may freeze, leaving your pet without water. A doghouse should be just large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down in; this will insulate the most body heat. Placing it on a platform above the cold ground and out of the wind will help, as will placing it on the south or east side of your home for maximum sunlight exposure. A heavy dog-door style flap over the entrance will prevent drafts. Instead of old using old blankets for bedding, which tend to trap moisture and make your dog colder, opt for some fresh hay or straw. Make sure it smells clean and fresh and give enough to make a comfortable bed. Replace as needed. No dog should be left out during winter storms, even with a good shelter, and geriatric dogs don’t handle cold well, no matter the breed. Use your best judgment.
Two dangerous but avoidable dangers of winter are hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia occurs when your dog’s body temperature falls far below normal. Keep in mind that a dog’s normal temperature is between 101º and 103ºF. Symptoms include severe, uncontrollable shivering, numbness in the extremities, breathing trouble and may ultimately lead to cardiac arrest. If you think your dog may be hypothermic, contact your veterinarian immediately. Keep your dog warm with blankets or heating pads, but avoid hot water baths or anything rapidly warming, as these can complicate the condition. Frostbite occurs from prolonged exposure to extremely low temperatures. Likely places for this to happen on your dog are tails, ear tips, toes and scrotum. The affected area will be pale and cold to the touch. The area will need to be re-warmed slowly. Again, it is ideal to contact your vet if you suspect frostbite. These conditions are not common in our area, but can occur, especially on winter hunting trips.
Winter can be a difficult time of year, for humans and pets alike, but all it takes is a little preparation to make sure your pet has a happy, healthy winter ahead.