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Your pets may not be as hardy as you think


December 2018

A wet dog on a veranda
Pets need special care in winter

Because so many pets love to be out of doors and because many have their own furry coats, it is easy to think they don’t need any special attention in the colder weather.

But while they may have evolved from animals who still live happily outside in all climates, for our domesticated pets, spells of cold, wet weather can cause problems.

For smaller pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets that may normally live outside, it can be a good idea to move them to a specially sheltered area or even bring them indoors if the temperature really drops. All livestock, from small hamsters and mice to healthy chickens, will do better with warm, comfortable living quarters in winter; adding extra bedding or shavings will go a long way to help keep them healthy throughout the winter.  Even a fish pond needs a bit of care in winter. If it looks like the surface will freeze over, drop a ball on the surface and then remove it midday, ensuring there is a good air hole to keep the water topped up with oxygen.

Cats and dogs may appear to love being outside in all weather, but in fact a severe winter can cause them problems.

A common problem in frosty and icy conditions for a dog is cracked and sore pads caused by de-icing salts on roads and driveways. The salt dries out the pads causing cracks and soreness. Washing your dog’s paws after a walk can help prevent this. You can also protect the feet with baby oil or even doggie booties before a walk. Salt and grit can also cause problems especially for cats, if they decide to lick their paws clean.

Another problem is antifreeze which can be spilled onto a driveway or road. Most antifreeze contains ethylene glycol which is very toxic. If your dog licks even just a little, it can quickly affect the dog’s nervous system and kidneys and severe reactions including lack of co-ordination, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst and the onset of seizures can occur within one hour. Without immediate treatment, it can lead to death. There are now antifreezes on the market which contain propylene glycol instead. This does not affect the kidneys but still can attack the nervous system.

Many cats, and some dogs especially in town homes, spend a lot of time indoors, so that when they go out into particularly cold weather they are unprepared for the temperatures. They will not have grown a thicker winter coat to protect them against the temperatures and they can be more susceptible to frostbite or hypothermia.

People may think a dog would never get frostbite because it is so energetic it keeps the blood flow rushing around, but this is not true, especially with older dogs and puppies. Frostbite in dogs usually affects the extremities such as the toes, the tail and the tips of the ears and can cause the tissue to die.  If any of these areas appear pale and cold to the touch, then warm the affected area slowly with warm water – do not rub the area as this can cause further damage. Once the dog is warmed up, take him straight to the vet.

Hypothermia can occur in winter not only with old dogs or puppies, but also in active dogs who may find rushing into icy water irresistible even in the depth of winter! Hypothermia is when the dog’s body temperature drops so low that it interferes with the normal metabolic functions and can cause cardiac arrest. Mild hypothermia can be treated with warm towels, heating pads or a warm bath, but serious hypothermia needs professional treatment and again the animal should be taken straight to the vet.

There are some breeds that are especially susceptible to problems in winter. Boxers, Boston terriers and greyhounds all have a very low tolerance of cold and need doggie sweaters or coats in really cold weather. Dogs with long fur such as a golden retriever can develop foot problems due to ice balls forming between their pads and toes which can be very painful.

Even indoors one has to be careful. Winter treats such as chocolate and alcohol are toxic to pets, and festive favourites like holly and poinsettia can also be toxic if your pet decides to nibble them.

One awful thing that happens more in winter is when cats shelter under parked cars. There have been numerous incidents of injury as the driver has driven off, not realising a furry friend has been sheltering underneath. Cats have also been known to get into the car engine for warmth, another very dangerous place when the car is driven off, so banging on the bonnet as you get into the car can be useful.

The Blue Cross has some good information.


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