Critter Buzz: Protect your pet from winter

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

While you sit snuggled up and warm in your living room this winter, take some time to consider the effects that the extreme temperatures outside may be having on your four-legged friends.

First of all, if you are miserable being outside in the extreme cold, then chances are your pet is too. In addition, pets have many extremities that are at risk for frostbite if they are left in extremely cold temperatures for too long. We commonly see frostbite on the tips of the ears and on the toes when temperatures drop well below freezing. Some animals can lose these extremities when frostbite has set in.

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A dog's fur sometimes isn't enough to protect it from cold winds.

Wind chill is also something that people don’t always think about. Yes, your pet is wearing a little built-it coat, but even that is not enough if there is no available wind protection. At the very minimum your pet should have access to an outdoor enclosure that protects from the cold and wind on all sides.

It is also a good idea to pad these types of enclosures with hay or some other insulator that will help to retain body heat within the enclosure. There may also be other heating options available through your local pet store that can help keep your pet more comfortable.

Outdoor sources of water will often freeze, making it impossible for pets left outside to drink, which can quickly lead to dehydration. If you must leave your pet out for any length of time, you can purchase a water warmer that sits in the bottom of the water bowl and prevents the water from freezing.

It is the time of year to get your car serviced for the cold season. Unfortunately, the products that protect your radiator can be deadly to your pet. Most antifreeze products contain a chemical called ethylene glycol. It is sweet, and many animals are attracted to it. If animals are thirsty because no fresh water is available, then they may be even more likely to consume the poison.

Ingestion of these products cause renal damage when formation of ethylene glycol crystals in the kidneys destroy cells and lead to acute renal failure. It is very important when using these products to be sure to cap the product carefully, and clean up any spills completely and keep these products away from any pets. You can also switch to antifreeze that has propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol. Propylene glycol is still poisonous but not as deadly as ethylene glycol.

When pets are outside in the cold, it is best to check on them frequently, especially if they are small animals with very little hair and body fat. You may want to invest in a jacket that can help these smaller animals stay more comfortable.

The bottom line is that it is best to keep your pets inside when the temperature falls below freezing. Even without all of the dangers of the cold outside, you and your pet will both be more snug if you can brave the cold indoors and bundle up together!

— Jennifer Stone is the medical director and staff veterinarian at the Lawrence Humane Society. She has been a shelter veterinarian for more than a decade.