Although we don’t see white winters as often south of the Mason-Dixon Line, we still experience harsh weather here in Alabama. Here are some tips about caring for your pets in colder weather:
Antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol) and De-icing Solutions
Many people use antifreeze in the fall and winter months. Antifreeze can be used in cars/trucks, recreational vehicles, home air conditioning units, and even swimming pools. Although some efforts have been made to make antifreeze more pet friendly, ALL forms of antifreeze are poisonous to pets. Unfortunately, its sweet taste makes it difficult for pets to resist and cats are especially sensitive. It is imperative to keep pets away from antifreeze. Wipe up spills immediately and dispose of antifreeze in a capped container. Seek veterinary attention immediately if ingestion occurs. De-Icing solutions (usually salts) can also be detrimental to a pet’s health. Wipe paws and their belly after walks to prevent them from licking off the solution.
Outdoor cats will often curl up in the fan belt overnight to seek shelter. Turning on the motor can cause serious or even fatal injury to an unsuspecting cat. Knocking or banging on the hood prior to starting your car will usually scare the cat out and allow him to run away.
Hypothermia (Low body temperature)
Hypothermia in a cat or dog occurs when their rectal temperature is below 100.5. Young puppies/kittens and older pets are more susceptible to the effects of hypothermia. In extreme cold, pets can freeze to death. To prevent hypothermia from environmental causes, pets should be offered adequate warm, clean, and dry shelter, preferably in your house. If they can not stay in the house, consider keeping them in a garage or laundry room, especially on colder nights. If they must stay outside, an insulated, weather-proof dog house is required. Dog houses should be large enough for him to stand and turn around, and should have a wind block. Blankets or bedding (straw) can help provide warmth. Heating blankets, pad, and lamps should be used with extreme caution; these devices can catch fire. Towels can be warmed in a dryer to add warmth. Many people use sweaters and/or booties for their pets. These are great at keeping pets warm, especially small or toy, short-haired and thin breeds. Long-haired pets should be allowed to keep their natural coat in the winter.
In cold weather, water bowls may freeze and contribute to decreased water intake from your pets. Check water bowls twice daily to be sure that fresh, unfrozen water is available. Heated bowls can be purchased.
Just like people, pets often eat more during the winter months. This is especially true for outdoor or active pets; their metabolic needs are higher since their body is working harder to stay warm. Be sure you are providing adequate amounts of a high quality pet food while keeping a close eye on weight gain. Excess weight can be detrimental, especially to pets already suffering from arthritis.
Similarly to humans, both dogs and cats can suffer from arthritis. The effects of arthritis can be more pronounced in the winter months. They may have a harder time standing or rising, climbing stairs or jumping, or be more “lazy.” Talk to your family vet if you see these signs as diet changes, pain medications, and/or nutritional supplements may be warranted. Offering warm, cushy bedding to lie on and keeping your pets weight in check can also be helpful.
For more information, please speak with your family vet, or visit the following:
Kristin Raboin, DVM
VRRH Emergency Services Veterinarian