Cold weather tips for your pets

In cold weather, keep your pets away from antifreeze solution, and promptly clean up any antifreeze that spills. Antifreeze is attractive to pets and is deadly, even in very small amounts. Following is more cold weather information.

Most urban pets spend the majority of their time indoors, and don't have tolerance for extremely cold weather. Do not leave your pets outdoors unattended when the temperature gets below freezing! Pets must build up a thicker coat and get their footpads toughened for snow and ice. Pets that get too chilled could develop hypothermia or even frostbite. Ear tips are especially susceptible to frostbite.

Dogs with very short coats have the least tolerance for cold. Extremely short-coated breeds include Greyhounds, Dobermans, Boxers, Boston Terriers and Chihuahuas. These breeds shouldn't go outside without a sweater or a coat except for short times to relieve themselves. Small dogs with short coats (such as Chihuahuas, miniature Pinschers, and miniature Dachshunds) are especially vulnerable to cold. They may not tolerate any outdoor exercise in extremely cold weather.

Many dogs need boots in cold weather, regardless of coat length. If your dog frequently lifts up his paws, whines or stops on his walks, his feet are uncomfortably cold. Be sure to get your dog used to wearing boots before cold weather sets in. Another frequently seen foot problem is the formation of iceballs between the pads and toes of the feet, especially in dogs with long fur. Once iceballs form, they are very painful, much like walking on rocks. When dogs get these, they often whine, stop walking and start chewing at the bottoms of their feet to remove the painful iceballs. To help prevent iceballs, trim hair around your dog's feet. Apply a small amount of Vaseline, cooking oil, or PAM spray to your dog's feet before taking him for a walk. Make sure you use oil that can be eaten; most dogs lick at their paws. If your pet walks on salted sidewalks or streets, be sure to wash his paws after your walk. Salt is very irritating to footpads. Many dogs will quickly start whining and biting at their feet after just a few steps on salted roads. Gently rub the bottom of the feet to remove the salt as soon as your dog is off the road.

If your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, let him get acclimated gradually to dropping temperatures. Once a pet is acclimated to either warm or cold, a long dose of the other extreme is hard to take. Outdoor pets need a sheltered place that is well bedded with DRY straw, shavings, blanket strips or other insulating material that traps warm air. Also, remember that animals drag a lot of moisture into their bedding areas from snow, rain and mud. Check it often and change it whenever it is wet, or your pets can't keep themselves warm. Northern dog breeds such as Huskies and Malamutes who actually work in the winter pulling sleds need more calories.

The rest of the pet population generally gets less active in winter. Consequently, cut back a bit on what you feed your animals, or your vet will be nagging you in spring about your portly pets.

Most cats prefer to spend winter indoors, but be cautious if your cat likes being outside. Don't let him out in bitterly cold weather, and be sure he has a warm place to go if he spends a lot of time outdoors. Cats left outdoors have a particular hazard; they often crawl into a warm car engine to get warm. When that engine is next started up, the cat can be seriously injured or killed by the fan blade or belt. It's much safer to keep your cat indoors in winter. For more cold weather information for your pets, talk to your veterinarian.