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Winter weather means pets need protection

By Dr. Mary Maristany
Rowan County Animal Shelter Veterinarian

Winter brings cold weather, freezing rain, ice, sleet, snow and bone-chilling winds. Cold weather can be deadly to pets, causing hypothermia, disorientation and death.

The very young and geriatric pets are especially vulnerable; if the temperature is less than 40 degrees, they should not be left outdoors for any extended period of time. Pets that have underlying medical problems such as kidney disease or heart disease are even more vulnerable.

Just because a dog has hair on its body doesn’t mean that it is equipped for cold weather. Slick coated breeds such as Dobermans, Dachshunds, greyhounds, rat terriers, etc. do not grow a winter coat and cannot be outside for extended periods of time. The smaller breeds may need a sweater even for short periods of time in order to keep warm.

Other breeds are designed for cold weather. The thick-coated northern breeds like Siberian huskies and Malamutes, Samoyeds, Keeshunds, Norwegian elkhounds and Spitz can withstand frigid weather quite comfortably.

Also, herd-guarding breeds such as Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, Anatolian shepherds, Kengals and Old English Sheepdogs are designed to be cold weather tolerant. Other double-coated breeds such as Labradors, Australian shepherds, collies, chows and Akitas are also cold hardy.

But none of these pets will be comfortable in the cold if they are not acclimated to it. If your pet spends more than 75 percent of its time indoors, it will not develop a thick, weatherproof coat and they will be unable to keep warm. In that case they should be treated just like a short-coated breed.

Any pet that is outdoors for an extended period of time, whether at night or during the day, needs proper shelter from rain and wind. A well-constructed dog house, a garage or even a room in an outbuilding that protects from wind and rain is a must.

Just as necessary is bedding on which the pet can sleep to help maintain body warmth. Bare concrete or dog house floor is not adequate. A doggy bed or thick layer of wood shavings or straw is just as necessary as the dog house.

Cats in general do not like cold weather and are much happier indoors. The best place for any cat is in a sheltered area with heat, food and water. If you have cats that are outdoors, they should also have a small dog house with bedding or a nice thick bed in the garage or outbuilding.

One often-overlooked necessity is plenty of water to drink. Pets need just as much water in the winter as during the summer, and they cannot get enough to drink by eating snow. Place water where it will not freeze. If that is not possible, the cold water/ice should be dumped out of their bowl at least twice daily and replaced with warm water. The warm water is more comfortable for your pet to drink and will take longer to freeze over.

Rowan County occasionally has enough cold weather so that ponds may have ice on most or all of the surface. Ice on a pond can be deadly, as the ice near the edge is usually thicker than further out. A pet may walk out for a distance and then fall into the freezing cold water. They are then unable to get back out because of the edge of ice.

Cold weather brings other hazards besides the temperature.

Chemicals such as antifreeze and salts used to melt ice are dangerous. Snow melt gets on pet’s feet and can burn paws, and pets then lick their feet. When ingested, it can cause mouth irritations, vomiting and even death if at a high enough level. Antifreeze has a sweet taste which both dogs and cats find attractive and it is very toxic. Don’t leave antifreeze in a garage or shed where it is accessible to your pet, and clean up any spills immediately.

Be aware of indoor hazards that come with the cold weather. Space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces can cause severe burns. While an older animal may have enough sense and experience to avoid getting burned, puppies and kittens often don’t. Puppies and kittens may also knock objects into the fire or space heater. Puppy- and kitten-proof the area around the fireplace or space heater.

Winter weather can be a great time to play and enjoy the outdoors, and pets love to join in the fun. A little extra care will make sure that their time outdoors is safe and comfortable.

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