Brrr! East Tennessee didn’t escape the cold front that swept much of the nation recently, and more freezing temperatures may be on the way. We humans adapt by changing what we wear and possibly altering our daily activities. Our pets, however, are subjected to the same weather extremes but must rely on their owners for extra protection. Unfortunately, many pet owners inadvertently may not think that dogs and cats require extra care in the winter, but they often do. If your pets could talk, here’s what they might tell you about winter from their perspective:
“My fur isn’t as warm as you think it is.” It’s a common misperception that fur is enough to protect dogs and cats from the elements. While some breeds with very thick hair may stay warmer than breeds with short, thin hair, all pets are subject to hypothermia and frostbite. If temperatures drop below freezing and your pet must be outside for more than 20 minutes, consider dressing him or her in a snug coat or sweater. If you’re outdoors and your pet starts shivering, whining, or seems anxious or weak, they may be showing signs of hypothermia. Bring them indoors and call your vet to discuss their symptoms.
“My paws aren’t shoes!” Your pet’s paws may be tough, but they’re still sensitive to cold and subject to damage or injury. Cold or icy concrete or pavement can cause cracked paw pads or bleeding. It’s a good idea to wipe your pet’s paws after being outside to get rid of any ice or salt that may have accumulated between their toes. You can also try massaging petroleum jelly onto your pet’s paws before going outside to protect their feet.
“Watch where you salt, please.” It’s common to sprinkle ice salt near front doors, walkways, and driveways to keep surfaces slip-free. However, many types of bagged ice salt can irritate your pet’s paws and gastrointestinal tract if licked and digested. You can look for pet-friendly ice melting products that don’t contain salt, or wipe your pet’s paws with a damp cloth after coming back inside.
“Leave me at home.” The well-known rule about not leaving pets in parked cars during hot summer days also applies to cold weather. A parked car acts as a refrigerator on cold days, quickly putting your pet at risk of hypothermia or worse, freezing to death.
“Be careful with antifreeze.” Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. The ingredient ethylene glycol that’s in many automotive antifreeze products is a sweet-tasting, odorless liquid that dogs and cats can be tempted to lick up. If you spill antifreeze or it leaks from your car onto the driveway or floor of your garage, be sure to clean it up quickly since just a very small amount can result in severe poisoning. If you notice signs of early poisoning such as excessive thirst, loss of coordination, or lethargy, call your vet immediately. If left untreated, internal damage could result in acute kidney failure.
“Take my medical conditions and age into account.” Some medical conditions, such as arthritis, may be aggravated by colder temperatures. And pets with heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or hormonal imbalances such as Cushing’s disease may have a harder time regulating their body temperature. Very young or very old pets should also be monitored for cold intolerance. Consult your veterinarian if you need guidance on determining your pet’s temperature limits.
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