Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 7 : Winter 2011 - Page 64

County Critters with Dr. Terri McQuade Winter Pet Care Cold weather can be hard on pets, just like it can be hard on people. Sometimes owners forget that their pets are just as accustomed to the warm shelter of the indoors as they are. Some owners will leave their animals outside for extended periods of time, thinking that all animals are adapted to live outdoors. This can put their pets in danger of serious illness. There are things you can do to keep your animal warm and safe. 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. Keep your pets inside as much as you can when the mercury drops. If you have to take them out, stay outside with them. When you’re cold enough to go inside, they probably are too. If you absolutely must leave them outside for a significant length of time, make sure they have a warm, solid shelter against the wind, thick bedding (hay is a great insulator that they can snuggle down in), and plenty of non-frozen water. Try leaving out a hot water bottle, wrapped in a towel so it won’t burn your pet’s skin. Some animals can remain outside safely longer in the winter than others. In some cases, it’s just common sense: long-haired breeds like Huskies will do better in cold weather than short-haired breeds like Dachshunds. Cats and small dogs that have to wade shoulder-deep in the snow will feel the cold sooner than larger animals. Your pet’s health will also affect how long she can stay out. Conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances can compromise a pet’s ability to regulate her 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. Regardless of their health though, no pets should stay outside for unlimited amounts of time in freezing cold weather. If you have any questions about how long your pet should be out this winter, ask your veterinarian. Cats will curl up against almost anything to stay warm--including car engines. Cats caught in moving engine parts can be seriously hurt or killed. Before you turn your engine on, check beneath the car or make a lot of noise by honking the horn or rapping on the hood. 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. 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 flames, heating coils, or hot surfaces. Pets can either burn themselves or knock a heat source over and put the entire household in danger. It’s a good idea to have your furnace checked for carbon monoxide leakage before you turn it on, both for your pets’ health and 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 carbon monoxide poisoning than the rest of the family. Pets that go outside can pick up rock salt, ice, and chemical ice melts in their foot pads. To keep your pet’s pads from getting chapped and raw, wipe her feet with a washcloth when she comes inside. If your canine friend will tolerate it there are speci