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Cold weather tips for pets

Posted by Stephanie St. Martin  January 25, 2013 06:31 AM

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It's frickin' freezing in here, Mr. Bigglesworth.

If it seems like everyone has become Dr. Evil, it's because, baby, it's cold outside! Cold weather can not only affect you, but it can affect your pets as well. Here are some tips to keep your pet safe in the cold.

Do not let cats go outdoors. They can freeze easily outdoors if they don't have shelter and become lost or stolen. What's more? "They won't have access to unfrozen water," warns Dr. Brian Collins, Lecturer, Community Practice Service at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Keep a towel handy. Salt and other chemicals used to melt the snow can seriously hurt your pets, especially if they're inhaled. When a dog returns from outside, wipe off his paws, legs, and stomach to remove the excess snow and ice.

Dogs' paw pads can be very sensitive to the cold. Some dogs will lift their paws more often when they head outside. Others may have paw pads that will bleed if snow or ice covers them.

How can you help your dog? Put olive oil on his paws to help combat against the chemicals and ice. Obviously, wipe off all the olive oil before your pup re-enters the house.

Another tip? "There are some products used for sled dogs that can be effective, such as Musher's Secret," recommends Dr. Collins.

Invest in a sweater and boots. If your dog isn't the olive oil type, boots can help. See how your dog tolerates them.

Don’t give your pup a haircut in the winter. Even if he's a shaggy dog, the longer hair will keep him warm. And for short-haired breeds and smaller pups, sweaters are must. Buy one with a high collar or a turtleneck that will cover his belly.

Protect other pets. During the winter, outdoor cats will often seek shelter from the cold. A place of refuge can sometimes be under the hood of the car. Imagine your surprise when you start your car! To prevent a possible injury or worse to a neighbor's cat, bang loudly on the hood of your car and wait a few seconds before starting the engine, to give a cat a chance to escape. "This doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen enough so that when it does, it's quite traumatic for everyone. Another good reason to keep kitty inside in the winter," warns Dr. Collins.

Buy a heated bed. All pets, especially older pets, will appreciate a heated bed. The extra warmth can help your dog or cat stay warm during the night.

Or, you could just teach your dog how to do this!

Learn how your dog tolerates the cold. Some dogs do better in the cold if they are only let outside when nature calls. Many dogs, however, can tolerate the cold well for various periods of time. "You need to use your judgment and your experience with your pet," says Dr. Collins. "Make sure the dog can tolerate (and enjoys) the cold before embarking on a long hike. Otherwise, frostbite and even hypothermia can be concerns. If this happens, you just might have to carry your dog out of the woods."

Keep dogs away from frozen ponds, lakes and rivers. If you aren't Gordon Bombay and "grew up on the ice", you are never certain if the ice will support their weight. There are many sad stories of how dogs have broken through the ice and their owners will try daring rescue events. Some stories have a happy ending; some don't. If there is water nearby and your dog is left unsupervised, it's a recipe for trouble.

Keep Antifreeze away from pets. Antifreeze, even in very small amounts, is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Let me repeat that: Antifreeze is lethal poison to pets. It has a very sweet taste so your pet will be attracted to it. If there are spills around your vehicle, make sure to thoroughly clean the mess up. There are safer, animal-friendly products on the market (these products contain propylene glycol rather than the traditional products containing ethylene glycol) so investigate those products if you prefer your pet to be safe.

Call your veterinarian or The ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA/NAPCC) if you suspect your animal has been poisoned. Dr. Collins warns, "Don't delay! Antifreeze causes kidney failure and can be very difficult to treat. If you suspect or have witnessed your pet ingesting the liquid, call your vet or asked to be referred to somewhere that can provide the necessary care. In many situations it isn't known what the animal has gotten into, and the vet has to figure it out from the physical exam findings as well as blood and urine tests."

How can you help? "Always alert business owners if you see the characteristic green liquid in their parking lots," says Dr. Collins. "Let them know of the danger so they can have someone clean it up and keep pets safe."

Check your reptiles' heat lamps. All reptiles are cold-blooded, so be sure check their heat lamp and make sure it's providing the necessary warmth they need. Do this year round, but especially in the winter months.

Keep pet birds in a draft-free area. If the weather outside is getting frightful, find a warmer location for your pet bird. If you own chickens, shelter them from the wind and invest in a heat lamp.

Bring outdoor rabbits inside. If you have an outdoor rabbit, bring them inside for the winter. The basement, the garage - anywhere where it's warm and out of the wind. Some rabbits may not be used to living indoors but they can adapt. House rabbits are great pets, but you need to make sure where you place your rabbit is bunny-proofed. They will chew furniture, shoes and even electrical cords so prepare in advance.

Learn everything you need to about owning a rabbit here.

"If your rabbit must stay outdoors, keep them out of the wind," says Dr. Collins. "Provide lots of extra bed and fresh water daily."

For ferrets, guinea pigs, and other small mammals, move their cage to a warmer area where there are no drafts. You can invest in extra bedding or a small bed, such as a cuddle cup.

May you, and all your furry friends, stay warm this winter!

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