Be Aware and Be Prepared
By Janice Cha
Winter can be hard on pets as well as people. Owners sometimes forget that their pets are just as used to indoor warmth as they are. Some owners leave pets outside for extended periods, thinking that all animals are adapted to live outdoors—but instead put their pets at risk from illness, frostbite, hypothermia or worse.
Coats, Boots And Fur
Keep your short-haired pets inside as much as you can when the mercury plunges. When you take them out, stay outside with them. When you’re cold enough to go inside, they probably are too. A coat helps somewhat, but don’t depend entirely on that to keep her warm. Pets lose much of their body heat through the pads of their feet, ears and respiratory tract.
Frostbite affects animals as well as people. Feet, nose and ear tips are the most vulnerable. During cold-weather walks, watch for signs of discomfort. Consider using doggie boots (strapped on tightly with Velcro) to protect feet from ice and salt. Companies like Ruff Wear make good-quality warm and waterproof coats for those winter walks.
Road salts will burn paw pads. “Protect paws by using weather booties (Mutt Luks are awesome) or using paw wax such as Musher's Secret,” advises Angela Love, CPDT-KA, C.A.R.E. Canine Medical Director for three years and a nine-year C.A.R.E volunteer. “Be sure to use pet friendly snow-melting salts when clearing your own walkways.”
Health And Age
Health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and hormonal imbalances can impair a pet’s ability to maintain body heat, making your dog more sensitive to cold than in their younger years..
Very young and very old animals are also vulnerable. Be particularly gentle with elderly, arthritic pets. The cold can leave joints stiff and tender. Make sure they have warm, soft beds. Also, be cautious with older dogs when you walk them outside: a slip on the ice can cause significant injury – for them AND for you!
Water And Fire
Less obvious winter pet hazards include bodies of water, cars and heat sources.
If you live near a pond, lake or river, be extremely cautious about letting your dog off-leash. Once a dog falls though the ice, it’s difficult for them to escape on their own. It’s equally difficult—and dangerous—to stage a rescue.
Cats will curl up against almost anything to stay warm, including car engines. Cats caught in moving engine parts can be seriously hurt or killed. Before you start your vehicle, check beneath the car or make noise by honking the horn or rapping on the hood.
Indoors, fireplaces and space heaters can attract pets. Make sure that no tails or paws come in contact with flames, heating coils or hot surfaces. Pets can burn themselves or even knock over a heat source, putting the entire household in danger.
Holiday decorations are beautiful but can be hazardous to pets. If swallowed, tree tinsel and garland can intestinal obstruction which may require surgery to remove. Ornaments can cause a choking hazard or can cut mouths or paws if broken, and unstable Christmas trees can (and do!) come crashing down thanks to curious cats.
“Always manage pets around decorations and secure them away from decorations when you're not home,” Angela notes.
Also, never use gift ribbon as a “toy” for your cats, and make sure that ribbon-decorated presents under the tree are covered. Finally, make sure the dog has no access to holiday chocolate or other people treats.
Be sure to keep eggnog well away away from your pets. "Eggnog is high in fat, which can lead to pancreatitis, a serious condition that requires hospitalization," Angela adds. “And hard eggnog contains rum, which can be deadly for dogs and cats.”
Finally, as much as we may want to include our pets in the holiday festivities, we need to consider if our pet should or wants to be included. “Dogs with anxiety or fear issues may find a house full of strangers overwhelming,” Angela cautions. “Also, the constant opening of the front door provides many escape opportunities. Make sure your pets have a safe place to relax away from guests.”