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Happy Holidays for Pets and People

Winter can be a time of fun and frolicking in the snow but it is also a time of year with new concerns for pet owners. Here are a few tips to help you and your pets enjoy the frosty weather.

Keep cats inside during cold weather. Cats should not be let outside during the winter, even if they seem to enjoy it. They could get caught in a snowstorm and loose their way, or be unable to find shelter, leaving them exposed to the elements. Some cats may try to seek warmth under the hoods of cars, but then become caught in the fan belt when an unknowing driver starts the engine. These injuries are devastating and often fatal. By knocking on the hood or honking the horn before starting your car, you will will likely startle any sleeping cats into removing themselves from harm’s way.

Protecting dogs from the elements. If it is too cold for you, then it is too cold for your dog. In very cold weather dogs should not be left outside any longer than it takes them to do their “business”, and should always be supervised. Dogs should not be walked off leash in the winter, as falling or blowing snow can make it difficult for drivers to see them, and road conditions may make it difficult for a driver to stop, should an animal run out onto the road. Young or short-haired dogs may require sweaters and boots when venturing outside.

Animals can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia too. Frostbite is most common on your pet’s paws. Symptoms of frostbite may not appear until a couple of days after exposure. Signs to watch for are swollen paws, pale skin that is cold to the touch, and your pet fussing over the area. Common areas affected are the tips of the ears and the paws. Hypothermia occurs when your dog’s temperature falls below about 37°C. Symptoms will include excessive shivering, lethargy and lack of coordination. If this happens, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Animals need more energy to stay warm. If you are bringing your pets outside with you, keep in mind that they will need access to more food and water (not frozen!), in order to keep their bodies functioning in the cold.

Never leave pets alone in a car. Pets can freeze to death in very cold weather. A car will not maintain sufficient heat to protect them from the cold and can actually hold in the cold, causing the space to become like a refrigerator. Leave pets at home or bring them with you on your errands.

Beware of chemicals on driveways and sidewalks. Some products used to melt snow may be irritating to paws or toxic if ingested. Try to use pet safe products whenever possible, and wipe of your pet’s feet and fur when they come in from outside. Also keep an eye out for antifreeze and brake fluids, which contain a deadly poison called ethylene glycol , but smells and tastes sweet to animals. If you suspect your pet has been exposed to this toxin contact your veterinarian immediately.

A little extra planning and care goes a long way, and when the end result is a safe and happy winter with your pets, the effort is well worth it.