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Winter and Cold Weather Pet Tips

As Winter weather sets in there are many problems which can occur.  Here are some tips and information to keep your pets healthy and safe.

Always try to keep your pets inside.  Dogs and cats normally kept indoors should never be left outside in cold weather without supervision.  Even with adequate insulated outside shelters, pets can suffer cold-related problems if they are too cold for too long. Elderly or arthritic pets may need help when they go outside especially if the footing is slippery.  Outdoor pets should always have a warm shelter and plenty of fresh, warm water.  Food should be increased by about 25% for outdoor pets to help them get the calories needed to generate the heat required to keep warm.   Indoor pets' diets should be monitored to watch for weight gain due to less activity in the cold weather. 

Hypothermia is a concern in cold weather.  Hypothermia sets in when your pet begins losing body heat faster than he/she is able to replace it.  To prevent it, don't leave your pet outside for long periods of time in cold weather.  When taking your pet out to exercise, try to do it more often and for shorter time periods and consider investing in a coat and boots for your pet.  Try not to let your pet get wet, especially if it is windy, as the wind chill factor can cool him/her down more quickly.  When a pet starts to suffer from hypothermia, he/she will exhibit shivering, lethargy, muscle stiffness and lack of coordination.  Other symptoms could be low heart and breathing rates and symptoms can progress to fixed and dilated pupils, collapse and coma.  If not treated properly, hypothermia can be fatal.   If you are out and your pet is suffering from the cold, you need to prevent him/her from losing further body heat.  Small pets can be picked up and carried but larger pets exhibiting symptoms need to get to a warm environment immediately.  Get to a warm area with a well-insulated floor and wrap him/her in a warm, dry blanket. The best way to tell if your pet is hypothermic is by body temperature.  If you have a thermometer, take a rectal temperature.  The normal rectal temperature for a dog or cat is 100.5-102.5 F.  If you don't have a thermometer, keep the warm blankets on your pet until he/she stops shivering.  For more extreme symptoms (body temperature 90-94 F) you will have to use rewarming sources such as hot water bottles, warmed towels from the dryer, heating pads, etc., but be sure they are not so hot that they will burn your pet's skin.  Hot water bottle temperature should only be between 103-105 F.  As you are rewarming your pet, call your veterinarian immediately for further instructions.  Pets treated for hypothermia should see the veterinarian to make sure there is no permanent damage from cold exposure.

Frostbite is the same in pets as it is in humans. Frostbite causes tissue damage due to exposure to extreme cold.  When a pet becomes cold, his/her body conserves heat by reducing blood flow to peripheral parts of the body such as ears, paws and tails.  This lack of blood causes ice crystals to form which causes the tissue to become damaged.  It is not always easy to see frostbite as the areas are usually covered in hair.  Pay close attention to ear tips, toes, and tails.  Skin will appear very pale and be cold to the touch.  As the skin warms, it will appear red and swollen and be very painful.  Do not massage these areas as it may do more damage to the tissues.  If you suspect frostbite, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.  The earlier it is caught, the better chance saving the areas involved.  Untreated, severely damaged skin will turn black and peel off.  It can lead to infection and amputation of the affected areas may be necessary.

Snow and Ice can cause problems for pet's paws.   Always check your pet's feet when he/she comes in from the snow.  Sometimes snowballs form in the fur between his/her paws or ice may cut the pads and between the toes.  It is a good idea to wash your pet's feet with warm water and dry them thoroughly to help decrease any discomfort.  If you pet has very sensitive feet, you may want to consider boots.  They come in various styles and sizes and can be purchased at many pet stores.  Make sure to follow measuring instructions.

Ice Melt Products made of simple salt can be very irritating to the paws.  If licked off of the feet or eaten off of the ground, it can cause excessive drooling or diarrhea.  If large amounts are ingested, the pet may show excessive thirst, weakness, low blood pressure which may cause fainting, decreased muscle function and in severe cases, seizures and coma with the possibility of death.  If your pet has been in a heavily salted area, wash his/her feet with a moist towel and clean off the salt.  On your own walkways and driveways, use a salt-free ice melter which contains nontoxic granules which will not burn or injure your pet's paws.   These are available anywhere you purchase ice melt products. 

Antifreeze can be deadly to pets.  Most antifreeze has a sweet smell and taste that attracts animals.  Always wipe up spills and store antifreeze (as with all household chemicals) out of reach.  Alternative antifreeze-coolants made with propylene glycol should be used around pets.  Warm engines in parked cars attract cats who may crawl up under the hood.  To avoid injuring hidden pets, always check under the hood before starting your car.  Do not leave your pet alone in a car.  It may get too cold and carbon monoxide from exhaust fumes can be dangerous.

Watch your pets around fireplaces and portable heaters.  Make sure the fireplace is screened to prevent burns and place heaters out of traffic areas.