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Furry family members need extra care during cold winter months

As winter bears down across America pet owners should take special care to be sure their furry family members are safe and warm. Photo by Darla Shelden.
As winter bears down across America pet owners should take special care to be sure their furry family members are safe and warm. Photo by Darla Shelden.

By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter

As winter bears down across America pet owners should take special care to be sure their furry family members are safe and warm.

“In general, it’s best to keep most cats and dogs indoors during the cold winter months,” said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, Oklahoma State University’s director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. “If this isn’t an option, then you must take precautions to ensure your pet stays warm and safe this winter season.”

It is critical that outdoor dogs have a shelter that is insulated and protected, with an entrance facing away from the wind. A flap can keep drafts to a minimum. The structure should be waterproof and large enough for your dog to lie down.

Cedar shavings, straw, or blankets should be placed in the house for added warmth and comfort.

“Paws, ears and tails are more susceptible to frostbite,” Giedt said. “The skin of an animal suffering with frostbite may initially appear bright red, then turn a pale color. If you suspect frostbite, cover your pet with warm towels, gently pat the affected area dry (do not rub the area) and take the pet to your veterinarian.”

Outdoor animals, including cats, often seek shelter by crawling into car engines and wheel wells. Before starting the engine, banging on the car’s hood or honking the horn will allow an animal time to escape.

People often change their car’s highly toxic antifreeze in the winter months. The sweet taste can lure animals and even a small amount is poisonous. Contact a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze.

“The signs of antifreeze poisoning include staggering and appearing depressed or acting drunk,” said Giedt. “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.”

Outdoor pets may also need to be fed more because staying warm typically requires extra calories. Always keep clean water available and check outdoor water bowls frequently as water may freeze in low temperatures.

December also means holiday decorations will appear in many homes. This can also be a health risk for your pet.

“Our pets are such a big part of our families and it’s understandable wanting to include them in all aspects of your holiday celebration,” Giedt said. “However, just as you take precautions with small children in potentially dangerous settings, it’s imperative you do the same for your pets.”

“Ribbons, Christmas trees, strings of lights, ornaments, tinsel and holidays plants such as mistletoe and poinsettias can pose a threat to your animals,” Giedt said. “You can still put these things out for the holidays, simply use caution, just as you would when baby proofing a home.”

It is important to keep your pet from chewing on a live or artificial tree because the needles can cause serious irritation in the pet’s mouth and also disrupt the digestive system.

Tree stand water can contain toxic chemicals such as fertilizers and insecticides that were used on the tree prior to harvest. A tree skirt can be used to help keep your pets at bay. Curious pets can pull the light strings off the tree and become entangled or even electrocuted.

“If your furry friend won’t leave your tree alone, consider using some sort of pet barricade or gate to block access,” Giedt said. “You may even consider putting the tree in a child’s playpen.”

Many holiday foods are also health risks for pets.

“Chocolate contains toxins that cause issues ranging from mild stomach upset to seizures and death,” Giedt said.

Other foods to avoid include grapes, raisins and macadamia nuts. Rich fatty foods can cause your pet mild stomach irritation to a severe condition known as pancreatitis. This often requires hospitalization and can cause death.
Giedt suggests avoiding pet gift toys with squeakers or bells, which could be easily ingested.

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

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