Winter is upon us, and with winter come some winter pet hazards. Watch out for these winter problems to keep your pets happy and healthy until the grass starts growing again.
Keep Pets Warm When It's Cold Outside
Cold and pets sometimes do not mix well. At the very least, make sure your dogs have shelter and an area to stay dry and out of the wind. Indoors would obviously be best, but sometimes that just can't happen. There's no single temperature number that I can answer with when people ask me "how cold is too cold?" A dog's cold tolerance can vary, just as with people. Some dogs are accustomed to cold and have a dense fur coat. They'll do fine, even in subzero temperatures, as long as they can stay dry and out of the wind. A tiny Chihuahua with no fur and no cold tolerance won't. Dogs who are used to cold weather will do better than those who haven't been exposed.
Avoid Antifreeze & Other Poisons
A lot of people change the antifreeze in their cars in fall and early winter. As a consequence, veterinary ERs see cases of antifreeze poisoning in dogs rise when the mercury dips. Antifreeze is a lethal toxin that causes kidney damage, often irreversible and fatal. It can be treated, but only in the early hours after ingesting it, before the damage has been done. Make sure to thoroughly clean up all spills of antifreeze and keep containers far away from the reach of pets and kids.
Wipe Feet to Clean off De-Icer
Spreading de-icer on the sidewalk outside your home can clear snow, but it can pose a hazard to your pets. Make sure that dogs aren't walked where you've spread it and that they can't get into the container. If they do get a little on their paws of fur, wipe them down before they get a chance to lick it off. Signs of a problem can include vomiting, diarrhea, low activity level and seizures
Cats See Dangerous Car Engines as Warm Beds
I haven't seen one of these for a while, but they used to be very common in the veterinary ER: 'fan belt' cats. It's a natural instinct in cold weather: finding a warm spot like a car engine to curl up. Once the parts start spinning at 5,000rpm, things can get ugly fast if you're a cat. If you keep your car outside or your cat can get into your garage, make sure there are no cats cozied up to your engine, knock on the hood or blow the horn before starting up the engine.
Pets Need Lots of Fresh Water in Winter, Too
Make sure the water supply doesn't freeze. A frozen water bowl can lead to thirst and dehydration quickly. There are lots of kinds of commercial water bowls than you can buy at pet stores. Some have a heating element in the bottom, and there are also heated bases that can keep any old bowl warm and unfrozen. Make sure the electrical cords aren't in a place that a bored pup could chew on. In my experience, the harsh weather and constant moisture means you'll probably have to replace them every other year or so.
Calorie Needs Go Up as the Mercury Goes Down:
Cold weather means more calories burned to keep warm. Make sure your pets have a ready supply of high-quality food, and keep track of their weight. You don't want your dog to pack on pounds to fight the weather, but you don't want your dog to lose weight in the winter. Save the diets for springtime, and make sure your pup gets enough calories to stay warm and maintain a healthy weight.
Heartworms May Not Die in Winter
Depending on where you live, your pet may or may not require heartworm prevention year-round. If you're in the South and never get a hard freeze, it's always best to keep it going every month of the calendar. If you live farther up north and are under snow for a good portion of the year, you may be safe skipping a few months when the mosquitoes are all dead.
But the heartworm preventative kills the heartworm larvae that your pet picked up in the previous month. The October 1 pill kills the September larvae. It doesn't work forwards; the Oct 1 pill works on that day only and the November 1 pill kills the October larvae. Because it's so easy to get out of the habit and heartworm prevention is easy and cheap, it's probably best to just continue it year-round rather than try and save a few bucks and risk forgetting to re-start it in spring.
Dry Winter Air Can Mean Itchy Coats
Winter can be dry and uncomfortable for indoor cats, too. The dry air can lead to a dry coat, and that can be itchy. Keep a humidifier going to maintain the right level of humidity and help keep everybody comfortable - maybe even you, too! Cats should be kept indoors in cold, wet weather. For those who have to stay outdoors, the same rules apply as for dogs. Outdoor cats need a place to get out of the wind a rain and stay dry.
With a little planning and a lot of common sense, you and your pets can survive winter and emerge into spring like a fresh shoot of grass!