Now that the colder weather is upon us, the Kent County SPCA is reminding pet owners of some tips to make sure your animals stay safe.
Anti-Freeze – Animals are attracted to this substance due to its sweet taste. It can be fatal if swallowed, so keep all anti-freeze bottles out of children's and your animal's reach (consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol). Be sure to clean-up any spills in your garage or driveway immediately. If your cat or dog should swallow anti-freeze or any poison, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Becoming Lost or Injured – Snow and ice increase your animal's chances of becoming disoriented and lost if roaming the streets. Make sure your animal always wears ID tags or is microchipped. Bad weather conditions make it difficult for cars to stop, increasing your animal's chances of getting hit. Keeping your pets indoors and walking your dog on a leash will prevent these types of accidents.
Carbon Monoxide – Have your furnace checked for carbon monoxide leakage before you turn it on, both for your pet's health and for your own. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, but it can cause problems ranging from headaches and fatigue to trouble breathing. Pets generally spend more time in the home than owners, particularly in the winter, so they are more vulnerable to monoxide poisoning than the rest of the family.
Car Engine – In cold weather, cats allowed outdoors may climb up inside the hood seeking warmth and shelter. This can lead to injuries and death when the engine is started. To prevent such occurrences, keep your cat indoors at all times. To protect stray cats, knock on your car's hood or sound the horn, before starting the car in cold weather.
Cars – Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
Check-Ups – Take your animals for a winter check-up before winter kicks in. Your veterinarian can check to make sure they don't have any medical problems that will make them more vulnerable to the cold. Your pet's health will also affect how long they can stay out. Conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and hormonal imbalances can compromise a pet's ability to regulate their own body heat. Animals that are not generally in good health shouldn't be exposed to winter weather for a long period of time. Very young and very old animals are vulnerable to the cold as well.
Cold Weather/Puppies and Elderly Dogs – Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train them inside. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take them outdoors only to allow them to relieve themselves. Be particularly gentle with elderly and arthritic pets during the winter. The cold can leave their joints extremely stiff and tender, and they may become more awkward than usual. Stay directly behind or below these pets when they are climbing stairs or jumping onto furniture; consider modifying their environment to make it easier for them to get around. Make sure they have a thick, soft bed in a warm room for the chilly nights. Also, watch stiff and arthritic pets if you walk them outside; a bad slip on the ice could be very painful and cause significant injury.
Page 2 of 3 - Fires and Space Heaters – If you light a fire or plug in a space heater to keep your home toasty warm, remember that the heat will be as attractive to your pets as to you. As your dog or cat snuggles up to the warmth, keep an eye out to make sure that no tails or paws come in contact with the flames, heating coils or hot surfaces. Pets can either burn themselves or knock a heat source over and put the entire household in danger.
Frostbite – Even though companion animals have a fur coat, most cats and dogs cannot endure the cold of winter for more than 10 to 15 minutes. A companion animal left outdoors can get frostbite and even freeze to death. Signs of frostbite include skin that is pale and cool to the touch. If you suspect frostbite, gently warm the area with warm (not hot) water and then take the animal to your veterinarian. After thawing, there may be pain or redness on the frostbitten area. Once an area has become frozen it can become cold and frostbitten again more easily.
Grooming – Animals tend to shed hair less during the cold months, but still require regular brushing. Cats generally do not need a bath as they clean themselves. Dogs should be bathed only if needed. When bathing any animal, be sure to only use a shampoo that is specifically safe for a cat or dog and follow label directions (this means no people shampoo!). Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When bathing a dog during the colder months, always remember to dry them completely before taking them out for a walk. If you own a short-haired breed, consider getting them a coat or sweater for the winter months.
Hypothermia – Hypothermia, or a body temperature that is below normal, is a condition that occurs when an animal is not able to keep their body temperature from falling below normal. It happens when animals spend too much time in cold temperatures, or when animals with poor health or circulation are exposed to the cold. In mild cases, animals will shiver and show signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As the condition progresses, an animal's muscles will stiffen, their heart and breathing rates will slow and they will stop responding to stimuli. If you notice these symptoms, you need to get your pet warm and take them to your veterinarian.
Ice, Salt, and Snow – Jagged ice and sidewalk salt can injure or irritate your dog's foot pads. After you return home from a walk, check the foot pads and stomach and wipe off any salt or ice with a damp towel. He or she can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking their paws and their paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice. Always dry your dog thoroughly whenever he or she comes in from the snow.
Page 3 of 3 - Lakes and Ponds – If you live near a pond or lake be very cautious about letting your dog off the leash. Animals can easily fall through the ice, and it is very difficult for them to escape on their own. If you must let your dogs loose near open water, stay with them at all times.
Shelter, Food, and Water – Cats should be kept inside at all times, year-round, to protect them from the many life-threatening dangers always present outside. Outdoors, felines can freeze, become lost or be stolen, injured or killed. Cats who are allowed to stray are exposed to infectious diseases, including rabies, from other cats, dogs and wildlife. Dogs should also live inside. However, if your dog spends a lot of time outside, you are required by law to provide adequate shelter! A proper doghouse must be windproof and watertight, with a floor raised off the ground and just large enough so that the dog is completely comfortable in any position. Bedding such as straw will also help insulate. Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh, clean water in a secure, non-tip dish at all times. Check the water bowl frequently to make sure that it hasn't frozen.
Sleep – Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.