|Winter Pet Care
Dr. Louise Jones
Pet owners should be reminded that most dogs and cats do feel the cold and the wind just as we humans do. Just because your dog has survived the cold, it does not mean that it does not suffer from the cold temperature and that it is enjoying it. The weather has been mighty cold in the last few weeks and during my daily walks, I still see dogs that are left outside day in and day out, 24 hours a day in spite of the bitter cold. Some of those dogs' only protection is a very poorly fabricated dog house with very little insulation and comfort against the cold and the wind.
What is the use of having a pet if one does not have enough love for that animal to provide a warm bed for it all year round but particularly in the bitter cold weather? Cats and dogs' purposes on the earth are to be companion animals; they are meant to be treated like family members. Animals are not commodities nor are they disposable. Your dog 's constant longing is to be constantly at your side and shower you with unconditional love. No matter what treatment they get, most dogs will love their person unconditionally. Cannot we do the same for them?
Pet owners should be made aware of winter's dangers which include harsh weather, leaked antifreeze, road salt. Most dogs and cats are better off indoors except when taken out for exercise. This will insure your animal's safety and decrease the risk for your pet of contacting the various health problems caused by too long exposures to cold temperatures.
One of the hazards a pet may face in winter when exposed to extreme cold is frostbites on the feet, ears and other areas of the body not covered by enough hair. Signs of frostbites include skin that is pale and cool to the touch and decreased sensation in the affected area. After thawing, there may be pain and the skin may look like it was burned. If frostbite is suspected, gently thaw the area with lukewarm water, then take your pet to a veterinarian.
During the cold weather, it is a good idea to knock on your car's hood or sound the horn before starting the engine as cats permitted to run free or stray cats that are looking for a warm spot, often climb up inside the engine seeking some comfort. Needless to say this can be harmful for the cat and for your engine.
Ideally, your dog or your cat should live indoors, as part of the family. However, if for some reason you are unable to keep your pet inside with you, adequate preparation for the cold weather is essential. If your dog has short hair, it is most likely that it will not be safe for the dog to be left outside very long in the winter months. If you have a large, long-haired dog with a thick coat, your dog may do very well outside in the winter when provided with the right kind of shelter.
In order to be effective, a doghouse must meet certain criteria. The entire structure should be a few inches off the ground to prevent dampness. The outside should be waterproof and draft-free with the entrance being sheltered from the wind. The inside should be just large enough that the dog can lie down and have a little head room when sitting - but no larger than that because the dog's body heat will help keep the doghouse warm. Fresh hay or straw can be put down and changed periodically to provide additional comfort. At one time when living in the country, I did leave my German Shepherds outside from time to time but I put several bales of straw all around the doghouses and I used enough bales to cover the doghouse completely. All you could see was a couple doghouses under a stack of straw bales. I also lined the inside of the doghouses with carpets for maximum comfort. This way, the dogs were never cold when spending a few hours outside.
ETHYLENE GLYCOL, the major ingredient in antifreeze, attracts both dogs and cats because of its sweet taste. But it is extremely poisonous: a tablespoon can kill a cat and half cup can be fatal to a 25 pound dog. The Illinois Animal Poison Control Information Center says that pets that drink antifreeze may act drunk, stagger and be depressed, sometimes within 30 minutes of ingestion. This may last 6 o 12 hours at which time the animal may even appear better. Within two days, however, a fatal dose will cause prolonged vomiting, severe kidney pain, ulcers in the mouth and excruciating death from kidney failure. If your pet should swallow antifreeze, call your veterinarian at once.
ROCK SALT is another substance to be wary of in winter. As it is abrasive, it may cut into an animal's paw and the salt can become imbedded in the wound, causing inten0se pain. Pets may proceed to lick their paws and burn their mouth. Dogs may eat rock salt which will cause vomiting. When bringing in a pet from the outside during an icy-cold day, check its feet. Remove ice balls between the animal's toes and wipe its feet with a damp towel, especially after walking on heavily salted pavement.