With winter weather officially here, pet owners should keep an eye on dropping temperatures, blustery winds and snow accumulation. Ah, winter in the Midwest.
When it's cold outside, we need to take special precautions to keep our pets safe. It's as cold for them as it is for us. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine offer winter safety suggestions to help us protect our companion animals when the temperatures drop.
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The ASPCA suggests the following:
• Take extra care of elderly and very young pets -- they are most susceptible to the effects of cold weather.
• Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm. Dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
• Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. Short-haired dogs may benefit from wearing a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck coverage, with coverage from the base of the dog's tail to the belly.
• Thoroughly wipe off your dog's paws, legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. He can ingest salt or antifreeze while licking his paws, and his paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice. The salts and other ice-melting chemicals can be irritating to his skin and mouth. Signs of ingestion of these chemicals include excessive drooling, vomiting and depression.
• After being outside, also check your dog for signs of hypothermia. These signs include: shivering, low body movement, muscle stiffness, lethargy, shallow breathing, a weak pulse rate, and disorientation. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia, seek veterinarian care immediately.
Frostbite is also a concern for dogs during the cold weather. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports frostbitten skin is red or gray and may slough. Common practice is to apply warm, moist towels to thaw out frostbitten areas slowly until the skin appears flushed. Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible for further care.
Dr. Petra Volver, a veterinary toxicologist formerly at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Urbana, reports antifreeze can be deadly. Pets may ingest antifreeze because it is reported to have a sweet flavor.
Signs of a toxic reaction include initially drinking and urinating a lot, depression, vomiting, rapid breathing and, eventually, kidney failure. So, keep it out of reach and make sure your car isn't leaking any on the garage floor.
The HSUS and ASPCA suggest using an antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol (rather that ethylene glycol). If it's swallowed in small amounts it will not hurt pets, wildlife or family members.
Brookelynn Nitzkin, information specialist with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, reports dry skin may be an issue for pets as well as people during the winter months. If your dog scratches a lot and there are flakes of skin, bathing him with a shampoo that has oatmeal as a main ingredient may soothe the skin.
You can also try adding a fatty acid supplement to his meal or supplements of vitamins A, D, E and K. Consult your veterinarian regarding these practices.
Our older companion animals need special consideration and attention during the cold winter months. Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine suggests elderly, arthritic pets become stiff and tender quickly and may find it difficult to move about in ice or snow.
If there is ice where you are walking, keep them tethered tightly to your side, as a bad slip can cause a ruptured disc, broken leg or major injury.
As much as we want to spend time with our companion animals, the ASPCA cautions never to leave your dog or cat in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
The HSUS also reports warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. Bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your car to avoid injuring any hidden animals.
In addition to protecting your own animals, the ASPCA reminds us to keep an eye out for other animals exposed to the winter weather. Contact your local animal control or humane society to report your concerns.
Inside the house, our companion animals need extra attention in the winter season. The ASPCA suggests making sure our animals have a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog bed with a warm blanket or pillow is the perfect place to nap.
We've waited a long time for our winter weather this year. So bundle up, grab your lead and go for a winter walk with your dog. Temperatures may be freezing, snow may be falling, and winds may be blowing. But any weather is great weather when you're with your dog.
Missy is a female cocker spaniel. She's about 7 years old, weighs about 30 pounds, and is hard of hearing.
Reba is a female Great Dane. She's about 6 months old and weighs about 80 pounds.
Thumper is a male rat terrier. He's about 10 months old and weighs about 14 pounds.
• Contact The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806; visit us at 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, or online at thebuddyfoundation.org.