The weather outside may be frightful, so here are some tips for keeping your pets safe in the snow and cold:
If it's chilly enough outside, our pets are as susceptible to frostbite as we are, especially on their paw pads and the tips of their tails and ears. Booties can help, and they also "prevent those ice balls from forming in the paw pads, which stings dogs," says Dr. Mark Russak, past president of the American Animal Hospital Association.
You'll do your dog and others in the neighborhood a favor by using pet-friendly salt (like Morton Safe T-Pet Ice Melt). Not only is it far gentler to canine paws, but it's also less damaging to concrete. Other options to prevent ice balls and deter street salt from sticking to a dog's pads are to spray an unflavored, no-stick cooking spray (such as Pam) on your pet's paws or use a product called Musher's Secret (available online and at many pet stores).
While most dogs wear their own coats, as temperatures dip, some need a little something extra, such as a coat or a sweater.
"If you have a small dog (21 pounds or less) or even a larger dog like a Greyhound with a very short hair coat, your dog needs some extra attention," says certified dog and cat behavior consultant Darlene Arden, author of "Small Dogs, Big Hearts: A Guide to Caring for Your Little Dog" (Howell Book House, New York, NY, 2006; $25.99).
"Small dogs lose body heat rapidly because they have a smaller body surface. While you may think that dressing your dog up in clothes is silly, it's purely practical," adds Arden, of Framingham, MA.
These days, there are so many fashionable choices, from "hoodies" and football or hockey team logo-wear for pets to faux fur designer dog coats. Of course, there is something odd about a dog wearing a leopard pattern coat.
Some dogs actually relish the cold. Breeds such as Malamutes, Siberian Huskies and Samoyeds sometimes prefer zero degrees to being indoors. Still, if even an Arctic dog is going to be outdoors for any period of time, be sure to provide unfrozen drinking water (you can buy water bowls with heaters to prevent freezing) and shelter from wind and snow.
For cats, there are always dangers to being outdoors, particularly in cold weather. The good news is, cats are pretty resourceful at finding warmth. But that's also the bad news. To a cat seeking heat, a warm car hood is like a cozy electric blanket. As a result, veterinarians in cold climes too often treat cats seriously mangled when people innocently start their engines. It's not a bad idea to follow Tony Orlando's advice: Knock three times on the car hood in the morning before turning on the ignition.
Desperate for water that's not frozen, cats kept outside in winter may drink anything they can find. Antifreeze is always tempting for pets. Less than a quarter a cup of antifreeze can kill a Great Dane, and a teaspoon's worth kill a small dog or a cat. So-called pet-friendly anti-freeze brands are safer; these brands contain bittering agents to discourage pets.
Some cats and dogs live in garages (never a good idea), and others can accidently find their way inside a closed garage when a car is being warmed up. This can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. It doesn't take long for a pet to die in sealed garage with a car running and no way out.
Another concern when winter temps hover just above freezing are partially frozen ponds, rivers and lakes, plus retention ponds in condo complexes. Dogs, in particular, sometimes fall through the ice, and they "are as susceptible to hypothermia as people," says Chicago veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Rubin. The risk extends to owners, who may attempt to rescue their best friends.
"Another concern is a confused dog taking off in the wrong direction, away from the shore instead of toward the shore," says Rubin.
Winter is for fun, but be safe and keep your pets safe.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)
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