Chilly Weather: Winter Pet Care Pointers

If you’re like me, in your head it’s still summer. Each new passing month is met with “November…really? December? C’mon, isn’t it still June? Let’s go camping!”

Sadly, no. Winter is upon us and, all self deceits to the contrary, so are the usual winter pet hazards. People love the warm weather and so do our pets. Winter comes with a host of hazards to avoid and I have listed a few of them to help keep your pets happy and healthy until the grass starts to grow again.

Cold: File this under “DUH” but winter is cold. Cold and pets does not mix well in many cases. At the very least, make sure your dogs have an area to stay dry and out of the wind. Indoors would be best, but sometimes that can’t happen. A dog’s degree of cold tolerance can vary — just like with a person. Some dogs that are accustomed to cold and have a dense fur coat will do fine, even into the single digits, if they can stay dry and out of the breeze.  A little Chihuahua with no fur and no tolerance to the cold won’t do well. Dogs that are acclimated to cold conditions will do better than those that have not been exposed. There is no single number I can answer when people ask, “how cold is too cold?” But keeping the above guidelines in mind can help keep your pooch safe and comfortable when the snow flies. The AVMA has some good cold-weather information, too.

Poison: A lot of folks use this time of year to change the antifreeze in their cars. As a consequence, we see cases of antifreeze ingestion in dogs rise when the weather turns cold. Antifreeze is a deadly toxin that causes kidney damage, usually irreversible and fatal. It can be treated, but only before the damage has been done. Make sure to clean up all antifreeze spills and keep containers well out of reach from pets.

De-icer: Spreading this on the sidewalk can clear the snow, but it can also do a number on your pets. Make sure that dogs aren’t walked where there is de-icer and that they can’t get into de-icer containers. If they do get some on their paws, wipe them down before they get a chance to lick it off. Signs can include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and seizures.

Car engines: Luckily, I haven’t seen one of these for a while, but they used to be legendary in the veterinary ER — “fan belt” kitties. It’s a natural instinct in the cold to want to find a comfy, warm spot to snuggle up to. Problem is, sometimes that spot is a car engine. Once the motor gets turned on and parts start whirling at 5,000 rpm, things can get pretty ugly pretty fast if you are a cat. In order to make sure that there’s not a cat cozied up to your catalytic converter, rap on the hood or toot the horn before starting up the car.

See the accompanying piece on cold-weather tips (coming soon) for your dogs and cats and stay warm and enjoy the holidays!

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