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How to Keep Your Pets Safe This Winter

The holiday season and winter weather pose numerous hazards to our pets. On the broadcast Thursday, "Early Show" Resident Veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell shared what you need to look out for to keep our pets safe in these coming weeks and months:

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While people merely need to put on a coat and gloves to stay warm in the cold, pets need us to protect them from old man winter. All outdoor pets should have shelter from the wind, rain, and snow. When the temperature outside drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), we should provide adequate protection from the elements for our pets. When the outside temperature and/or wind chill drops below zero, then our pets should have access to shelter that has heat! Young pets don't regulate their body temperature as well as adults, so bring them inside when it gets cold. Also, older pets, or pets with illness are especially susceptible to the cold. Keep them inside with you.

Winter Pet Protection/Use A Heated Water Bowl
Pets need access to fresh, unfrozen water at all times. It is better to use a heavy plastic water bowl in the winter instead of metal. Metal lose heat quickly and the water will freeze faster. Plus there is a chance the dog's tongue could get stuck to the bowl. A heated bowl is best for outside dogs.

Winter Pet Protection/Layer With Sweaters and Booties
When you take your dog for her daily walk, put a sweater on dogs with short or thin hair.

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.

Ice balls can form around your dog's feet or between the toes. These can be painful and very uncomfortable. Clipping the hair around the feet will help reduce this. Plus, try apply a little Vaseline or cooking spray to the bottom of the feet before a walk to keep ice and snow from sticking. Make sure to wipe the dog's feet when she comes back inside.

Winter Pet Protection/Keep Pets Away from Rock Salt and Antifreeze
Salted roads and sidewalks can be irritating to the dog. If their footpads are cracked from the cold weather, the salt will be like "salt in a wound". Not fun. Plus you don't want your dog licking all that salt and swallowing it. Be sure to wipe off your dog's feet when she comes in from a walk. Booties are very helpful in keeping the dog's feet dry, and clean of salt and other chemicals. Of course, it may take some time to teach your dog to wear them!

Antifreeze poisoning is a big risk during the cold months. This is a life-threatening medical emergency. If your dog or cat ingests antifreeze and receives no medical attention, they could die in less than a day. Signs of antifreeze poisoning: depression, 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.

Holiday Pet Hazards/Be Aware of Pine Needles
Make sure your tree is well-secured. If you have a tree-climbing cat or large dog that likes to wag its tail, anchor the top of the tree to the wall using a strong cord or rope to prevent pets from knocking it over. Other potential hazards from the tree itself include pine needles. If ingested, sharp pine needles can puncture your pet's intestines. So, check around trees and boughs frequently.

Keep Tinsel and Lights Out of Reach
String objects: many pets -- especially cats -- also like to chew on string objects, such as tinsel and ribbon. If ingested, they can wrap around intestines or ball up in the stomach, so they should be kept out of reach and safeguarded at all costs.

Electrical lights and cords: holiday lights (both on and off the tree) mean more electrical cords, and many pets -- especially puppies and kittens -- like to chew on them, which means they could get electrocuted. So, be sure they are secured and out of the way.

Holiday Plants Are Poisonous To Pets
Other holiday plants: holly and mistletoe (especially the berries) are extremely poisonous to your pets if eaten. And, while poinsettias may not be truly poisonous, their leaves and sap can cause gastric distress. With so many hybrid varieties out there these days, it's probably best to keep all holiday plants out of your pet's reach.

Never Leave Lit Candles Unattended

Candles: you should always use caution when burning candles around the house, especially if you have pets. Never leave lighted candles unattended, and be sure they are securely anchored so they won't be dislodged by the swat of a paw or tail. If you can, use only candles with domes or cylinders that enclose the flame.

Holiday Pet Hazards/Keep Pets Away from Leftovers

Human food: don't feed your pets scraps from the table! High-fat foods, which are typically found on holiday menus, can upset your pet's stomach. Instead, keep your pet's favorite treats on hand and offer them when the rest of the family is enjoying their meal. The following foods are commonly found around many homes during the holidays, and can be especially hazardous to your pet:

Bones: The holiday turkey or chicken will provide lots of tantalizing bones, but don't feed them to your pet. Small bones or bone chips can lodge in their throat, stomach, and intestinal track. Beware of steak bones, and ham bones, too.

Onion and garlic: These contain sulfides, which can cause the destruction of red blood cells, and are toxic to animals. Foods spiced with onion and/or garlic should not be given to pets.

Raisins: Many people use them while baking during the holiday season. But, they could pose a choking hazard, so keep them out of reach. Raisins are particularly problematic for cats.

Chocolate: What would the holidays be without boxes of chocolate and warm cocoa? And, though it may be tempting to sneak your pet a little piece...don't! It can be toxic, or even fatal, to dogs and cats (chocolate poisoning occurs most frequently in dogs, but other animals are susceptible, too).

(NOTE: What to do if you think your pet has been poisoned: if you think your pet has been poisoned, seek medical attention immediately. One great resource is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center:1-888-4-ani-help or (888) 426-4435. The center is the best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is dedicated to helping animals exposed to potentially hazardous substances by providing 24-hour veterinary diagnostic and treatment recommendations. (Note: you'll need to give them a credit card when you call. A $65 consultation fee may be applied.)

Holiday Pet Hazards/Use A Crate To Minimize Pet Stress

Activity: the holidays can be a busy time with lots of visitors around, and that can be stressful for your pet. So, try to minimize changes in your pet's normal routine. And, if there are a lot of visitors around, put your pet in a quiet, secluded part of the house. Also, keep an eye on the door, which can be an open invitation for a quick escape (make sure they have collars and tags on, just in case).

The puppies featured in our segment this morning are up for adoption! For more information, visit North Shore Animal League America's website at

If you have a holiday-related question about your pet for Debbye, or even a general pet-related question, write to her via email, Facebook or Twitter.

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