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Pets need extra care during cold months of winter

By Darla Shelden

Contributing Writer


With temperatures falling below the freezing mark across the state, many Oklahomans are turning up the heat so they can be more comfortable. Some special preparations need to be considered during these winter months regarding the family pet, animal experts say.

“As you make changes to keep yourself warmer, pet owners should be doing the same for their pets,” said Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension veterinarian.  “In general, most cats and dogs are better off indoors during the cold winter months,” MacAllister said. “If that isn’t an option, then you must take precautions to ensure your pet stays warm and safe this winter season.”

MacAllister points out that it’s imperative that outdoor dogs have a doghouse that is insulated and protected. The entrance needs to face away from the wind and have a flap to keep drafts to a minimum. The whole structure should be waterproof and large enough for a dog to lie down, however the smaller the area the easier it will be for the dog’s body to heat the house.

Clean hay, straw, cedar shavings or blankets should be placed in the house for added warmth and comfort. Dogs need a wellgroomed coat to keep properly insulated.

When the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, shorthaired dogs, elderly dogs and puppies should be kept indoors for their safety.  Paws, ears and tails are more susceptible to frostbite. Frostbitten tissue may initially appear pale or gray, as well as hard and cold. As the area thaws, it may turn red.

“If you suspect frostbite, cover your pet with warm towels, gently pat, do not rub, the affected area dry and take the pet to the veterinarian,” said MacAllister.

Cats and other wild animals that live outdoors during the winter will sometimes seek warmth by crawling up into car engines. Bang on the car’s hood or honk the horn before starting the engine so the animal will have time to escape.

In addition to the cold temperatures, other cold weather hazards can be harmful to your pets in the winter

People commonly change their car’s antifreeze, which contains toxic ethylene glycol, in the winter months. Pets will readily consume antifreeze because of its sweet taste.  Since even a small amount is poisonous, contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze.

“The signs of antifreeze poisoning include staggering and appearing depressed or acting drunk,” she said. “These symptoms can last up to 12 hours, and it may even appear your pet is getting better. However, within 24 hours there will be prolonged vomiting, severe kidney pain, mouth and throat ulcers and ultimately the toxin will kill the pet. It’s imperative that antifreeze spills get cleaned up right away. Be sure to store containers of antifreeze in sealed containers where children and pets can’t reach,” said MacAllister.

When conditions become icy, rock salt is used on streets, sidewalks and driveways.   This substance can be abrasive and become embedded in your pet’s paws, which is quite painful.

Check their paws thoroughly and remove any ice balls between the pet’s toes. Wipe both toes and feet with a damp towel to remove any salt.

Pets kept outdoors require extra food, because staying warm typically burns extra calories. Keep clean water available and check exterior water bowls several times each day as water may freeze if the temperature is low enough.

Often considered part of the family, pets rely on their own­ers for their care and safety. No matter what the season, a family emergency plan should always include pets.  If home evacuation is necessary, items such as leashes and pet crates should be available.

“Just as you take extra precautions with your family during the winter, do the same for your pets to ensure they stay safe and healthy during this cold season,” said MacAllister.

For more information, contact the American Veterinary Medical Association at, OSU CVM Office of Outreach at 405-744-7672, or your local veterinarian.

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