Winter Hazards for Your Dog and Cat

Here are some helpful tips for those of you who keep your pets outside during the cold months.   Dr.L

Outdoor Pet Concerns

Cats and dogs that spend time outdoors are exposed to various environmental and physical dangers. In the winter, they are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia (low body temperature), just like humans. They should not be left outside for long periods of time in the winter and should always have the option of coming inside. It’s important to be aware of these risks, so you can keep your pet safe and healthy. Your pet’s health, food, and environment all need to be taken into consideration when “Old Man Winter” approaches.
Once temperatures start to dip below the freezing point, remember that any outdoor water will freeze. Cats and dogs need a constant supply of fresh, unfrozen water. For outdoor pets that only have access to outdoor water, heated water bowls can be used to keep water from freezing. If an electrical source is not available, water should be kept in a covered, enclosed space to prevent it from freezing quickly. Dog houses filled with straw work well for outdoor pets, giving them a warm place to eat, drink, and keep dry from the winter elements. Heated pet mats are also helpful and will help a pet retain its body temperature, which is especially important for old or sick pets. It is important to only use heated products that are approved for pets.
Pets that spend a lot of time outdoors during the winter months burn more calories in order to stay warm. Monitor your pet’s weight and add more food when necessary.  Giving your pet a higher-quality, protein-rich food will help him or her stay warm and healthy.
Outdoor cats may seek warmth under car hoods and can be injured or killed by the car’s fan belt. Before getting into your car, knock loudly on the hood to ensure that a cat is not hiding beneath it.
Even pets that are use to being outside can suffer hypothermia and frostbite. If severe winter storm warnings or extreme cold weather alerts recommending that humans stay indoors are issued, it is a good idea to bring your pet indoors, too. If your pet cannot be brought indoors, a garage or mud room can provide enough shelter in some cases.
Also known as ethylene glycol, antifreeze is probably one of the most common and dangerous winter toxins. Methanol is a toxic ingredient present in windshield wiper fluid .  Both of these products are highly toxic, and pets are sometimes attracted to their sweet smell and taste. Once a pet drinks antifreeze, the toxin is rapidly absorbed, and signs such as vomiting, loss of coordination, and depression can appear within 1 hour. The kidneys are most severely affected by antifreeze.  Acute kidney failure can occur within 12 to 24 hours after ingestion of antifreeze. It is important to take your pet to the vet immediately if you suspect he or she has drunk even a small amount of antifreeze.  Delayed treatment usually results in death.
Salt and Chemical Ice Melts
Cats and dogs that walk on sidewalks or in the street that have been de-iced can have chapped, dry, painful paws. Also, because they tend to lick their paws, they can be exposed to toxic chemicals found in some ice melts. Pet-safe ice melt products can be purchased at most home improvement and pet stores. However, not everyone in the neighborhood may use these products, so it is important to wash your pet’s feet with a warm cloth after he or she comes in from being outside.

Indoor Winter Hazards
During the winter, people and their pets tend to spend more time indoors, so it is important to keep the home environment safe for your pets. The following are some common issues to be aware of.
1.  Burning candles, fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and space heaters create the potential for burns and smoke inhalation. The flickers and warmth of a fire can be an attraction for dogs; therefore, dogs should not be left alone in a room with open flames or hot electric elements. When these items are in use, monitor your dog at all times to keep him or her from getting burned or possibly starting a house fire.
2.  Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a threat to pets as well as people. Furnaces, gas water heaters, and gas/kerosene space heaters should always be evaluated for any leakage. Because pets tend to be in the house for longer periods of time during the winter, they can be exposed to carbon monoxide leaks longer, which may cause serious health issues or death. Checking smoke detectors (and purchasing smoke detectors that also detect increases in carbon monoxide) are good ways to help protect your pets and family.  Carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur if your pets are left in cars with the motor running or in a garage with a running car.  Don’t do it!!