Like all the other seasons, winter comes with its own unique list of pet-related hazards and concerns. From household poisons to cold weather hazards, the season is a minefield! Here are some tips on health care and potential problems for the winter months.
POISONS – RODENTICIDE
The use of rodenticides (mouse poisons) increases in the fall and winter as rodents seek shelter from the cooler temperatures by attempting to move indoors. Rodenticides are highly toxic to pets—if ingested, the results could be fatal. We don’t recommend the use of these products; if they must be used, do so with extreme caution and put them in places inaccessible to your pets. If you see your dog ingesting mouse poison, call your vet or the poison control helpline immediately, and have the packaging available to tell the staff.
In order to generate body heat, pets who exercise heavily outdoors, or who live outdoors, should be given more food during colder seasons.
Make sure outdoor animals have access to clean, fresh water that is not frozen. Heated water dishes are a good idea to keep them from freezing up.
Make sure outdoor pets have good shelter to escape the elements and stay warm. Bedding with straw is better than old blankets as it has air space for better insulation. It also does not absorb moisture as readily as cloth.
It seems as though the winter holidays are intricately associated with the giving of chocolate as a treat for us, but remember that it is not healthy for our four-footed friends. While many know chocolate can be toxic, just how toxic is it? Will a small bag of M&M’s harm my 80 pound dog?
Chocolate contains both caffeine and theobromine, both of which are toxic to dogs in large enough quantities. Mild toxicity is exhibited as agitation, vomiting and diarrhea. More serious cases will progress on to involve tremors, cardiac arrythmias and seizures. The toxicity depends on the amount of cocoa in the product. Semi-sweet and dark chocolate are 2-3 times as toxic as milk chocolate. Baking chocolate is 8 times as toxic. Cocoa powder is 16 times as toxic. In short, mild toxicity starts at 2-4 oz of milk chocolate or 1-2 oz of dark/semi-sweet chocolate per 5 lbs of body weight. An ounce brick of baking chocolate would be toxic to a 45 lb dog. When in doubt, call your veterinarian or a pet poison helpline, and they will be able to determine if the amount ingested is problematic.
Antifreeze spills or leakage from radiators should be cleaned up immediately. Pets looking for water will be apt to drink it if thirsty enough. If ingested it is highly toxic and may be lethal to pets.
Many holiday decorations may look like toys to dogs and cats but if ingested may cause intestinal issues. Beware that cats love to play with tinsel and ribbons. Exercise caution with placement of lights and electric cords if you have a young chewer in the house.
WINTER DOG PARK DANGERS:
Short winter trips to the dog park can be a great way to let your dog burn off some of that pent-up energy from staying inside more during the cold months. But the temperature and snow, among other things, can pose hazards to your pup. Here are some tips for keeping your dog safe.
Check with your vet. Senior dogs, dogs with arthritis, dogs with short fur and puppies can be especially sensitive to the cold weather. Ask your vet whether it’s better to keep your dog indoors and restrict his outdoor activity to short walks. If your vet thinks a trip to the park is okay, ask her what cold-weather precautions she recommends.
Bundle up. Dress your dog in a warm coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck; it should cover her back from the base of her tail and also protect her belly. Dog booties can protect paws from ice and salt — get your dog used to them indoors first.
Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. The risk of these conditions is especially high when the temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite typically affects poorly insulated body parts such as the tips of the ears and is evidenced by skin that is pale or red, swollen and painful or numb. Signs of hypothermia include slow pulse, shallow breathing, disorientation, collapse and finally unconsciousness. If you think your dog has either, call your vet immediately! Remember that if it feels too cold for you to be comfortable outside, then it probably is not comfortable for a dog either.
Stick to fenced dog parks. More dogs are lost during the winter than any other season, possibly because dogs can lose your scent in snow or ice and become lost if they can’t see you.
Trim your dog’s paws. If your dog has furry feet ask your groomer to trim the hair that grows between your dog’s toes and under his feet during the winter to prevent ice buildup between the paw pads.
WINTER WEATHER TIPS FOR CATS:
This winter let’s take some time to consider our outdoor feline friends. Despite having a fur coat with them at all times, not all felines are suited to or comfortable with chilly environments and some precautions must be taken to ensure their safety during this time of year.
Keeping your cat indoors until the weather warms up again is highly recommended. If they have to spend time outdoors though, it is time to do so early enough to allow them to grow a thicker coat before the temperatures drop further. Despite having a fur coat their ear and tail tips as well as foot pads are still susceptible to frostbite under the right conditions.
If your cat’s shelter is outside, use straw to line it. Do not use blankets, paper or towels as these can hold in the cold and become stiff. Also, the door should be covered with heavy plastic and face away from the wind to keep out drafts and the worst weather. Finally, the size should be large enough so that your cat can turn around, but small enough to hold in the heat.
Outdoor cats like to sleep underneath the hoods of cars for extra warmth. Before you start up your vehicle, bang on the hood to make sure that your cat (or a neighbor’s) is not underneath.
Remember to clean us any antifreeze spills or radiator leaks in the garage. If ingested by cats or dogs, this can be fatal.
Keeping warm during the winter can consume additional calories, so it is essential to feed your cats more during this time. Food containing high amounts of protein and fatty acids will help with this, and will also result in a thicker coat with which your cat can fend off the cold.
Make sure they have a source of fresh clean water. If you don’t have it in a heated area or have a bowl heater to keep it from icing, check it several times daily.
If you live in a town where de-icing agents are used on the roads or driveways, make sure to wash or wipe off your cat’s paws when they come back home. If your cat licks his or her paws and ingests these compounds, they can then cause indigestion or other stomach upsets.