Help Your Pets Weather Winter

When the temperature outside drops below freezing, it's not only uncomfortable to your pets, it can be dangerous. So as we enter this bone-chilling winter, it's important to take steps to protect your pets from the cold.

"Early Show" resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell shared some tips and accessories that could come in handy to help your pets weather the winter months:

If it feels cold outside to you, then chances are it feels cold to your pets too. They will be much more comfortable and safer inside, away from the wind, rain, and snow. Even for dogs the live outside, it's important to provide a warm, wind-free, dry place for them when the temperature outside drops below freezing, and when there is inclement weather.

All pets need protection from the wind and rain when it gets down to the freezing point, 32 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets below zero degrees Fahrenheit, all pets need to be in an environment with a heat source. Very often the wind and precipitation pose the greatest threats to your pets. If you must keep a hunting or working dog outside in a doghouse, be sure the house is only big enough for the dog to stand, lie down, and turn around. The doghouse should be rise a couple of inches off the ground. There should be some sort of insulating padding on the floor, like straw. The door should face away from the wind. Also, the doorway should be covered with a weatherproof flap to prevent rain, and snow from entering the house.

The very young, old, sick, short or sparse-haired pets should not be left in the cold, nor should they stay outside very long on those potty breaks. The animals can have difficulty regulating their body heat. A sweater will be very helpful. Dogs that should wear a sweater: older (geriatric) dogs, short-haired dogs (like Chihuahuas, miniature pinschers, dachshunds, greyhounds, boxers, Boston Terriers), and dogs that are sick. Cold weather dogs can tolerate more cold than other dogs like Huskies, Samoyeds, Chows, St. Bernards, Sheepdogs, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Pyrenes.

Pets need more calories in the cold temperatures, so up their food allowance. Use plastic bowls that won't freeze in freezing temperatures. If you have a hunting or working dog that lives outside in a kennel, make sure his water source is always available by using a heated bowl to ensure that his water never freezes.

Sidewalks and roadways are covered with de-icing chemicals when there is ice and snow on the ground. These chemicals and salts can be irritating to your pooch. So be sure to thoroughly wipe her paws clean after coming in from a potty break. If you must use salt on your own steps or sidewalk, buy a pet-friendly de-icer to reduce the risk of irritation and poisoning. If your dog will tolerate them, booties are great to protect his paws from the wet, ice, snow, and chemicals. If your pooch goes outside with bare feet, be sure to completely clean and dry her paws when you come back inside. Be sure to check between the toes for ice-balls that may have formed in the hair. These can be very irritating and even cause damage to the paws.

At this time of the year, many people use antifreeze in their car radiators. Antifreeze is very dangerous to your cats and dogs. The active ingredient, ethylene glycol, can cause fatal kidney damage in just a matter of hours. Do not let your pet get access to antifreeze! It has a sweet smell and taste, so clean up any spills and put away all bottles out of their reach. If your dog or cat ingests antifreeze and receives no medical attention, they could die in less than a day. Signs of antifreeze poisoning: depressions, lack of coordination, diarrhea, thirst, and seizures. (Ethylene glycol is the toxic agent. Antizol-vet can be given to stop the effect of the ethylene glycol.) There is a safer antifreeze that is made with propylene glycol that doesn't damage the kidneys, but it is still toxic and can damage the nervous system.

Car engines are especially attractive to cats in the cold months. They will crawl under the hood of your car and sit close to the engine for warmth. With that in mind, it is a good idea to bang on the hood of your car before starting the engine during the winter to make sure there are no kitties under the hood. Starting your engine with a cat in there can cause devastating, even fatal injuries to the cat.

Normal body temperature for a dog or cat is around 101 degrees. Hypothermia happens when the animal's body temperature falls dramatically below this temperature. The metabolic rate lowers and consequently affects organ functions. The first sign of hypothermia is shivering, then respiratory depression, lethargy, weakness, gums turn pale or bluish, lack of coordination, paralysis, and collapse. Hypothermia is a serious condition. Left untreated, it can lead to, complicate, or cause coma, heart disease, and kidney failure. If you suspect your pet is suffering from hypothermia, wrap them in a warm, dry blanket and get them to the veterinary clinic immediately.

Frostbite is especially a risk for pets because it's easy to miss under the fur. Frostbite is the death of tissues in the body caused by ice crystal formed in cells. The parts that are most likely to get frostbite are the ears, feet, tail, scrotum, and mammary glands. If conditions persist, the skin will begin to slough off. Immediate medical attention is necessary if you think your pet has frostbite.
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