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Care for your pets in winter                                            December 2009 

Care for your pets in winter

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

In fact, cold weather can cause a lot of problems for our pets and a bit of extra care makes sense.

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.

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.

A dog which has walked across antifreeze can ingest it by licking it off its paws or fur, so again it can be useful to wash a dog after a winter walk in an area where antifreeze might have been used or spilt.

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 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.

Last winter we had a sudden snap of icy weather and this may of course occur again this year. If so, it is worth remembering that while dogs and cats love to play out of doors, they too can suffer from the cold.



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