Winterizing your pets! What you can do!

Allen M. Schoen, D.V.M., M.S.

Put the snow tires on, change the oil and antifreeze and be ready for winter! Just like automobiles, it is important to prepare our pets for winter conditions! Though we are talking about are beloved pets, the above ideas are not that off the wall. Let’s take a look at some things that we can do to prepare our pets and prevent problems. One of the most important things to remember and cannot be emphasized enough is to make sure that when you change your antifreeze in your radiator or if you have a leak in your radiator and antifreeze leaks out in your driveway, that you clean it up immediately, scrub it up, soak it up and dispose of everything that might contain it. For your dog or cat, a little dab will do them in! This stuff is deadly!!! Avoid it at all costs! If you observe your pet licking some call your veterinarian immediately! There are some new antidotes for antifreeze poisoning for dogs , but you need to administer them right away. Even with cats if you get them the appropriate therapy at your veterinarian immediately , the prognosis is good if treated within three hours of ingestion. It has the highest fatality rate of all poisons for pets and is especially worse for cats! By the time, signs begin to show, it is often too late! It effects the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, the liver and the kidneys. Early signs include mild depression, nausea, vomiting, lack of coordination, trembling, drinking and urinating excessively. It will cause kidney failure within 12 to 36 hours with signs such as drooling, oral ulcers, seizures and coma.

The challenge here is that antifreeze actually has a somewhat pleasant taste to pets and only a small amount is lethal. If a veterinarian is not available for any reason, contact your local poison control center. You can administer a small amount of hydrogen peroxide orally to get them to vomit immediately and after that, you can give them some activated charcoal capsules to absorb some of the poison while getting to the veterinarian. Another prevention tip is to buy animal safe antifreeze all the time and tell all your friends and neighbors to. Prestone has an animal safe antifreeze as well as other companies. The more people are aware of and buy animal safe antifreeze, the more companies will provide it and the less available the toxic stuff will be!

Snowtires for pets? Sounds bizarre, but there are a number of things to be aware of that can be dangerous for your pets feet. Again, if there is antifreeze on the ground, they can walk on that and then lick their paws and be poisoned. Also, I have seen dogs that are walked on heavily salted sidewalks develop neurologic problems such as incoordination as well as drinking and urinating excessively from licking the salt off of their paws. If you walk your dog in areas that are heavily salted, make sure to wash their paws off as soon as they come in to prevent salt poisoning. Also, if it is very icy outside, sharp ice can actually cut your dogs paws up. Some dogs will also get balls of snow and ice stuck between their toes, sometimes causing them to limp, and they should be gently removed.

Some people have put doggie booties, little rubber wrappings with velcro tape, like snow tires, over the paws during icy weather or if they walk their dogs on salted sidewalks. Another precaution is not to let your pet play frisbee or catch on icy surfaces. Just like people, they can slip and slide and hurt themselves, especially their knees. It is not uncommon to see a dog severely injure their knee slipping on the ice. For old, weak, arthritic dogs, booties may give the support and traction they need to walk confidently on slippery surfaces and enable them to get up and down and go to the bathroom easier.

What about keeping the rest of the body warm in the winter? Most pets develop a thicker coat in the winter to protect themselves unless they live indoors most of the time. For normal, cold winter days, that should be enough. However, if you have a chinese hairless dog or a rex cat or some other extremely short haired breed, a warm jacket might be appropriate outdoors on extremely cold days and nights, when the temperature drops well below freezing. They have all sorts from cotton and wool to thinsulate jackets for pets in the latest styles and colors, even color coordinated with their owners! That should do it, if your friend stays indoors most of the time. If your pet stays outdoors in a doghouse, in the barn or elsewhere, you should make sure there is at least one place with extra insulation for them to cuddle up in. Many barn cats will nestle in horse blankets, extra hay in the corners and do fine on their own. However, if your dog lives in a dog house, make sure it is well insulated and protected from drafts. If you happen to have stray or homeless cats living outside nearby, try to create a little insulated cozy area for them outside as well. When it is really frigid, bring them indoors, unless they are a husky or other cold weather breed that dream of frigid days and thrive in them. I used to race sled dogs and they loved the coldest days. Make sure they have plenty of fresh water and it doesn’t freeze over. Consider an electric heater for dog bowls if they are outside all the time.

Just like us, our pets have different nutritional requirements when it is colder out. They may eat more if they are outside alot. Be aware of this, but don’t overfeed an already hefty dog. Obesity is as much a significant health hazard for our pets as it is for us, but that’s a whole story for another column. Exercise is still critical for us and our pets in the winter. If you are decreasing the length and frequency of your walks when it is real cold, make sure your pet dog still gets adequate exercise. Perhaps try taking them out more frequently or just bundling up more. If traveling with your buddies in the winter, make sure they don’t stay in the car too long if it is frigid out.

In conclusion, pets have similar needs as we do in the winter, warmth, good nutrition and fresh water, fresh air and sufficient exercise. Keep them away from antifreeze, buy animal friendly nontoxic antifreeze, keep the salt and ice off their feet and Enjoy!

No article can replace the services of a trained veterinarian.  This article is not intended to encourage treatment of illness, disease, or other medical problems by the layman.  Any application of the recommendations set forth in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion and risk.  You should consult a veterinarian concerning any veterinary medical or surgical problem.  If a veterinarian is caring for your pet, for any condition, he or she can advise you about information described in this article.