As the summer comes to an end and fall temperatures start to filter in slowly, remember your pets and the adjustments they will have to make with the cooler weather. Below are some tips to help you and your pet enjoy a safe, healthy, comfortable winter:
Before, during and after walks and outdoor exercise:
* In the colder climates and chillier temperatures, coats and booties can help your dog stay warm. In particular, shorthaired or elderly dogs benefit from wearing a coat or sweater. Look for coats or sweaters with high collars or a turtleneck that covers the dog from the base of the tail on top to the belly underneath.
* Remember to be very careful with sick or older dogs, since they are more sensitive to cold weather. For any dog sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.
* Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If necessary, paper-train your puppy inside if he appears to be sensitive to the weather.
* If you live in an area that sees a considerable amount of snow, clip the fur between your dog’s toe pads to reduce the amount of snow that collects between toes.
* To help protect dry, sensitive paws, try coating them with a bit of cooking spray before walks in very cold weather.
* If your area endures deep snows, help your dog by shoveling out a potty spot for him. It may seem like a bit of extra work or even silly, but without an easy place to relieve himself, your dog just may refuse to go outdoors and leave you with a mess to clean up.
* Upon returning home, immediately wipe any snow and ice off your dog’s feet, legs and belly. Little ice cubes can form in the sensitive spaces between the toes and toe-pads. Remove the ice carefully with your fingers since it may cling to the hairs between the paws. Wiping off your dog will remove any salt, antifreeze or other harmful chemicals that he could ingest when licking his paws.
* Consider keeping a container of warm water and cloths by the door for use after walks. It is good to rinse the paws before you wipe them dry, because lime rock salt and calcium chloride salt can irritate the footpads and cause vomiting and diarrhea when licked. Dunking in the water will also dissolve any ice and remove mud.
* Many de-icing and ice-melting products are toxic. Read the labels of any projects you use, and store these products in tight containers.
* Even brief exposure to sub-zero temperatures can lead to frostbite of the feet, nose or ears. Frostbitten skin appears red, gray or whitish and may peel off. Prevent frostbite by removing ice and snow from paws and fur right away. If you suspect frostbite, take your pet to a warm place and thaw out frostbitten areas slowly by applying warm, moist towels. Change them frequently. Continue until the affected areas become flushed. Then contact a veterinarian for further care.
* Do not be tempted to let dogs off their leash in snow or ice. Canines often lose their scent in cold weather and can easily become lost. Dogs can also panic in snowstorms and run away. The decreased daylight does not help either. More dogs are reported lost during the winter than any other season, so always keep dogs on a leash when outside a fully fenced yard and make sure your dog always wears proper identification.
Winter pet care:
* Brush your dog vigorously and regularly. The air in most houses becomes dry during the colder months, which depletes moisture from dog skin and fur. Brushing improves skin, coat and circulation.
* A thick-coated dog typically needs grooming in cold weather. The fur can get wet and matted, making it an irritant. Clean fur lofts and holds air in a manner similar to layering clothes, thus helping the animal stay warm.
* Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter. Leave the coat longer for more warmth. When you bathe your dog, completely dry him before taking him out for a walk.
* Do not leave antifreeze, coolant or windshield wiper fluid within reach. And do not let pets drink from puddles. These products taste appealing to pets but most are lethal to animals when ingested. Thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicles. Also, keep your pets on leash outdoors and steer them far away from any suspect puddles.
Consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Some companies offer non-toxic antifreeze products, such as Sierra. Be sure to have your radiator flushed before you fill it with Sierra and do not mix Sierra with traditional antifreeze.
* Keep a winter survival kit in your car. Include blankets, towels, water, bowl, first aid kit, and a sign that dog is in the car.
* Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold. The animal can freeze to death.
* Cats left outdoors and wild animals sometimes climb onto car engines or beneath cars to seek warmth. Please bang on the hood of your care honk the horn or tap the tires before starting the engine to warn cats away.
In-home health and safety:
* Provide your pet with a warm place to sleep, away from drafts and off cold, hard floors. Dog and cat beds with a warm blanket or cover are especially cozy.
* If you know people who keep dogs in basements or tiled rooms, remind them that tile and uncarpeted areas can get very cold.
* The dryness in our homes can make animals more susceptible to problems such as dry noses, upper respiratory infections, dandruff, itchy skin, hair texture changes, dry throats and more.
1. Use a humidifier. Consider a model that humidifies and purifies the air.
2. Add skin conditioners to the diet. Your veterinarian can recommend the best products for your pet.
3. Groom your pet regularly to prevent matting. A well-groomed fur coat will lie down smoothly and act as a thermal layering much like a coat would for us. A matted coat will not warm the animal.
* Portable heaters and fireplaces can be deadly hazards for animals and children. Screen fireplaces and put portable heaters out of your pet’s reach no matter what size or breed. Do not run portable heaters in a room where your pet is unless there is someone there to monitor them. When you leave the room, always turn the portable heater off.
* To avoid injuries, hypothermia and drowning, don’t let dogs or kids venture onto frozen ponds.
* If your dog falls through ice into water, heed this guidance about drowning from Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, author of First Aid for Dogs:
1. If the dog is limp, unconscious or unresponsive, wrap him in a towel. Keep the neck and back immobilized to avoid aggravation of possible spinal injury. Place the dog on a flat board for transporting.
2. If the dog is not breathing, lay him flat on his right side. Make several quick compressions to his chest to expel water, and then feel for a heartbeat just behind the left elbow. If there’s a heartbeat, but the dog is still not breathing, check the back of his throat for obstructions.
3. If you feel no obstruction, close the dog’s muzzle by firmly encircling it with your hand. Put the dog’s tongue in his mouth first so he doesn’t bite it. Then, blow into his nose. Adjust the force of your breath to the size of dog. Watch for rise of his chest, and keep checking for a heartbeat.
4. If you can’t feel a heartbeat, make one or two quick firm compressions on the chest wall with both of your palms flat on top of each other, and begin artificial respiration. Blow about 15 breaths followed by chest compression. Continue until the dog regains consciousness, respiration and heartbeat return, or until emergency assistance takes over.
* Keep Rescue Remedy on hand. It’s a Bach flower essence available in most health food stores. This gentle, natural stress reducing liquid can help people and animals recover from injury, fright, illness, travel fatigue and irritation. Put a drop drinking water. To help prevent travel sickness, a common dosage is four drops in the mouth about ten hours before the trip, repeating every four hours as needed. For stressed or injured animals, rub a drop on their ear or put a drop on the towel in their crate or carrier.
* If you see an animal in distress, please call your local humane society right away. It doesn’t take long for companion animals to suffer and fall victim to severe winter weather. Frostbite occurs when the fluids in tissues freeze, frequently on the tips of the ears, paws or pads, flanks and belly. Hypothermia, which can lead to death, occurs when the animal’s body temperature drops significantly below normal, causing the bodily systems to shut down. Furthermore, pets left outside are deprived of water, since water freezes at 32 degrees.
Leaving pets outdoors:
* If you know anyone who keeps pets outdoors, persuade them to bring them inside, especially overnight when the temperatures drop their lowest. Low temperatures, winds and precipitation can lead to illness and death. In addition, water bowls freeze in cold weather.
* Remember, dogs are domesticated animals that should live indoors with their human companions. Living outside in a doghouse is not the best for your pet, especially in cold, hot and wet weather.
* Please keep cats inside. Felines who spend time outside can freeze, or get lost or injured.
* Dog houses and the law: Local laws typically require that if dogs are kept outdoors, the owner must supply the dog with “proper” shelter from the weather, which includes a dog house big enough to stand up in and to permit posture positions that allow the dog to stretch out and stand up, but must not be oversized, since the dog needs to retain body heat; a wind flap on the dog house door; nonporous bedding such as straw; and, access to fresh, unfrozen water.
* If you see a dog in need of a caring friend, become that dog’s advocate. Speak with the owner, and if that fails to improve the situation, contact your local SPCA, humane society of animal control office.