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Protecting Pets From The Cold

As temperatures reach record lows around the country this winter, the weather poses a danger for people and pets alike.

It's especially important during the cold months to take precautions to keep pets warm and safe. The Early Show resident veterinarian Debbye Turner gives some helpful information and product suggestions to help protect animals in winter.

All outdoor pets should have shelter from the wind, rain and snow. Turner says when the temperature outside drops below freezing (32 degrees F), pet owners should provide adequate protection from the elements for their pets. When the outside temperature and/or wind-chill drops below zero, then pets should have access to shelter with heat.

Young pets don't regulate body temperature as well as adults, so, Turner says, 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.

Normal body temperature for a dog or cat is around 101 degrees F. Animals experience hypothermia when their body temperature falls dramatically below their normal body temperature. The metabolic rate lowers. That, consequently, affects organ functions. The first sign of hypothermia is shivering, then respiratory depression, lethargy, and weakness. The gums turn pale or bluish, and the pet experiences lack of coordination and paralysis before collapsing.

If a pet owner suspects his pet is suffering from hypothermia, Turner says to wrap the animal in a warm, dry blanket and get it 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 when ice crystal form 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. Again, immediate medical attention is necessary if you think your pet has frostbite.

Turner says pets may need extra food in the winter, so their bodies will have more fuel to keep them warm (indoor pets might eat less since they are less active). Turner says don't be surprise is Fido asks for the seconds in the winter.

Plus, 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 loses heat quickly and the water will freeze faster. Plu,s there is a chance the dog's tongue could get stuck to the bowl. A heated bowl is best for outside dogs.

Turner advises owners to put a sweater on dogs with short or thin hair when walking them.

Dogs that should wear a sweater:

  • Older (Geriatric) Dogs
  • Short-Haired Dogs
    Example: Chihuahuas, miniature pinschers, dachshunds, greyhounds, boxers, Boston Terriers
  • Sick Dogs

Ice balls can form around your dogs feet or between the toes. These can be painful and very uncomfortable. Clipping the hair around the feet will help reduce this. Plus, Turner says, try to 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.

Salted roads and sidewalks can be irritating to the dog. Turner says if their footpads are cracked from the cold weather, the salt will be like "salt in a wound." Plus, owners don't want their dog licking all that salt and swallowing it. Turner says owners should be sure to wipe off their dog's feet when it comes in from a walk. Booties are very helpful in keeping the dog's feet dry, and clean of salt and other chemicals. It may take some time to teach a dog to wear them.

Be careful not to let your pets get too close to the fireplace and space heaters. Burns are not uncommon at this time of year, Turner says, as pets can accidentally knock over heaters or get too close to open flame.

Turner gives the following guidelines for a proper doghouse:

  • Shelter Should be Elevated Off the Ground
  • Shelter Should Insulated
  • Doghouse Should Be Wind-Tight
  • Shelter Should be Water-Proof
  • It Should Be Large Enough for Dog to Stand and Turn in a Full Circle
    If the shelter is too big, the dog's body heat will not be able to help heat the house.
  • Bedding Should be Clean and Dry at All Times
    Wet bedding can only make matters worse for a dog. Some suggest using fresh hay as a bedding in doghouses. A good 6- to 10-inch layer at the bottom of the house should be enough to keep the pooch protected from the cold underneath.
  • Doghouse Should Face South Or East
    Positioning the shelter helps protect the pooch from the wind.

Turner says it is best not to use heat lamps or space heaters in a doghouse. There is a high risk for burns, if let on too long or too high.

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

  • Depressions
  • Lack of Coordination
  • Diarrhea
  • Thirst
  • Seizures

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. Antizol-vet can be given to stop the effect of the ethylene glycol, the toxic agent in antifreeze.

Turner says owners of an outdoor cat should knock on the hood of the car loudly before starting the engine. Cats will crawl into the engine to keep warm. Starting the car with a cat in the engine can be devastating.

Cold weather dogs such as Huskies, Samoyeds, Chows, St. Bernards, Sheepdogs, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Great Pyrenes can tolerate more cold than other dogs.

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