Pets Feel the Colder Weather Too
By LuAnn Kinney
Special to The Pilot
From ice on the bird bath to short sleeves, the see-saw temperatures of this winter keep everyone guessing what to put on in the morning.
So, too, must pet owners concern themselves with pets exposed to the fluctuating temperatures outside.
Pets need to be kept warm and dry, with adequate access to water, food and shelter. For many pets, going outside will only be for short periods of time.
Even if just going for a walk, though, if the temperatures are below freezing, and especially if there is also rain or snow, some extra protection might be needed. There are times when coats, sweaters and booties may be needed.
Snow, mud or ice can form solid balls that grow between toes as a dog walks. It can soon be very painful. The clumps may not be readily visible, requiring a finger to locate them between the toes. A human will most likely have to remove any ice or mud balls from the feet. Limping or attempts to lick and chew on feet can be an indication of a problem.
Boots, although not always easy to use, can help prevent these conditions. A dog can be trained to get used to boots, and if they are sized so that they are comfortable, he won't mind having them on during the walk.
Very small animals, thin-coated animals, very young, older, and ill pets will need the most protection in cold conditions. Keep exposure time to a minimum, and dry pets off should they get wet while outside. Watch closely for signs that your pet is ready to return to the warmth of the house.
Keep pets from licking snow or puddles that might contain antifreeze or other de-icing chemicals. Avoid walking through areas where there is salt or de-icing materials. Wiping paws after an outing will prevent the pet from licking something toxic.
When on outings with dogs, owners need to be cautious around bodies of water. If there is ice, even on a small pond, it can be very dangerous for the dog to go out on it. It can happen so quickly, and once a dog has fallen through the ice, it may be impossible to rescue them in time.
Shorter days mean some outings may be in the dark, so make sure you and your pets are visible. If there is snow or ice, remember that vehicles may have a difficult time stopping, so keep your pet close and avoid being where you can't be seen at a good distance.
Pets that have to be outside for extended periods will need shelter. Provide access to an insulated dog house or heated garage. A heated bed designed for use outside can be a benefit.
Dog houses can be purchased or built. There are plenty of designs and sizes to suit a pet's needs, and plenty of house plans to help with building one. Heat lamps or space heaters will pose a burn risk and also fire risk, so they should not be used. Only use heating sources for an outdoor dog house or shelter that is designed specifically for pets.
Don't make a pet sleep on cement, concrete or stone. These materials turn too cold to be healthy for them in winter. Wet, snowy or muddy ground is also an unhealthy situation if dogs are confined to such an area. Healthy paws need dry walkways.
Rugs, pads or beds may become damp or even wet and soggy in inclement weather. Replace them as often as needed. A layer of hay or straw, five to six inches deep and kept fresh, can provide good bedding in an enclosed or covered shelter.
Outside water dishes can freeze and may break, leaving pets without water. Metal and shallow dishes will freeze most quickly, so a dark-colored plastic dish - one that is deeper - is a good choice. A birdbath heater or heated water dishes designed for outdoor use can help prevent this.
Should your pet be shivering, it is time to get him back inside to warm him up. A pet that is shivering violently and shows other symptoms, such as lethargy or listlessness, is in need of a veterinarian immediately. A hypothermic pet may have a slower heart rate, slower and shallower breathing, and pale or blue gums.
Frostbite in a pet also calls for professional attention as soon as possible. Cats can suffer from these things, too. Most often tips of ears or tails are affected by the freezing cold first. The tissue will appear grayish and will feel cold and hard to the touch.
Colder weather also can create dangers for pets inside the house. Heat sources need to be used with caution to prevent pets from being burned. Space heaters and fires in the fireplace are examples requiring caution.
Pets have to rely on humans to make good choices for their care and safety. Understanding their needs and how to provide for them can help immensely with those choices.
Winter can bring times for fun outings with dogs and freedom from concerns about summer heat. A little planning and caution can help keep winter activities fun and safe.
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