February 2011

Winter Pet Care

It’s hard to forget your hat and gloves at home when you are blasted by cold winter air immediately upon stepping outside. Remembering the special needs of your pets may not be as obvious. Dogs and cats become acclimated to the warm temperatures inside, just as we do, and need to be protected from the cold. Taking the following precautions for your pets will help keep them healthy, safe and happy this winter.
The ASPCA makes many recommendations to prevent against the dangers that cold weather poses to pets. They recommend keeping all cats, even outdoor cats, inside during cold weather. If there are outdoor cats near where you park your car, they may curl up under the hood to keep warm. Before you start your car, make sure to bang on the hood to allow a hidden cat to escape unharmed. 
Dogs are better able to handle the cold than cats, and can be safely taken outside if the proper precautions are taken. Let the fur grow out on your longhaired dogs, and consider buying a sweater or coat for shorthaired breeds. It is important that any doggie protective clothing you buy covers the entire underbelly and has some type of collar that protects the neck. 
Just as you wouldn’t leave your pet unattended in the car in the hot summer months, it can also be dangerous to leave pets in a car in extremely cold weather. Also remember that carbon monoxide poses the same threat to animals that it does to humans. Never leave an animal in a running car in a garage or other enclosed space.
The ASPCA warns that dogs can easily lose their scent in the snow, making it difficult for them to find their way if let off the leash to roam. Keep your dog on its leash when you take it outside and consider shoveling and designating a specific area of your lawn for bathroom trips. Winter has the highest numbers for lost dogs, so make sure that yours is always wearing its ID tags.
Aside from the dangers of the cold temperatures, ice and snow, veterinarian Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby warns about the hazards of antifreeze (ethylene glycol). She warns that antifreeze attracts your pets with a sweet smell and flavor, tempting them to lick up any that has spilled or even to try to get into containers that are left within reach. This toxic substance can be fatal when ingested, and the life of your pet depends on rapid treatment. 
Keep a constant eye out for the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning, which can begin one hour after ingestion, so that you can get to the vet as quickly as possible. During the first 12 hours after poisoning, your pet will display symptoms of drunkenness. These include vomiting, stumbling and unusual lethargy. In cats, the kidneys may shut down within the first 24 hours, causing the animal to stop urinating. Kidney failure is slower in dogs, taking between 36 and 72 hours. It is important to keep an eye on your pet’s behavior and urination so that you can recognize symptoms early. 
Keep antifreeze in a cabinet that is not accessible to pets or buy non-toxic propylene glycol, which is a type of antifreeze that isn’t harmful to animals. Also, be sure to thoroughly wipe off your dog’s paws, legs and stomach after a romp in the snow to prevent the ingestion of antifreeze when they lick themselves clean. Drying off the paws will also help to prevent salt ingestion.
The special winter requirements of our cats and dogs are easy to overlook since pets can’t tell us what they need. Despite being equipped with fur coats, they need to be protected from the cold weather just as we do. Keeping these safety tips in mind will ensure a safe and fun winter for you and your pets. 
For more information on caring for your pet, visit www.aspca.org.