By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – For pets that spend time outside in the back yard or lounging in a patch of sunshine on the deck, the arrival of winter may be a rude awakening and cause of concern for safety, according to the Oklahoma State University Veterinary center.
“Before Oklahoma experiences a deep freeze, pet owners need to make sure their pets are well-cared for when the temperature begin to fall,” said Dr. Paul DeMars, associate professor in Community Practice at OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.
“As pretty and soft as your pet’s fur is, it isn’t necessarily the perfect insulator, especially when the temperatures are extreme or when the fur gets wet,” DeMars said. “Compare it to being outside wearing a t-shirt when it’s below freezing. Your pet’s toes, nose and ears are especially susceptible to winter weather, too.”
There are precautions that need to be taken to make pets safe during the winter months.
“If you suspect your pet has frostbite, cover the animal with warm towels. Gently pat dry the affected area and contact your veterinarian,” DeMars said.
“While winter weather can be hard on any pet, very young animals, as well as older dogs and cats, should not be kept outdoors,” he added. “These young pets simply do not have the fat, metabolism or the full fur coat they need to stay warm.”
The best option for pet safety during the winter is to keep them indoors. If your pet lives outside fulltime, it is imperative to provide adequate shelter from the elements,” DeMars continued. “A covered enclosure with blankets or clean hay/straw/cedar shavings is a must. Another option is a heated floor mat. Check with your local pet store to see what is available.
“Try to face the opening of the shelter away from the wind. Also, if it rains and the bedding gets wet, replace it with dry bedding,” DeMars said. “Wet bedding can grow bacteria and mold, which are not healthy for your pet.”
For those who enjoy walking with their pets, sidewalks and walking trails are likely to have been salted if there is ice or snow on the ground. Although this is helpful for humans to prevent slipping and sliding, salt can cause irritation on an animal’s foot pads. It’s a good idea to wipe their feet following a walk outdoors.
During winter months, chances of exposing pets to life-threatening chemicals also increases. Leaky radiators can leave pools of antifreeze in your driveway and is both a winter and summer issue. The sweet taste of antifreeze can be appealing to pets, but it can be deadly, even in very small doses.
“Antifreeze is highly toxic and absorbs quickly into your pet’s system. The kidneys are the most affected organs and can shut down completely within 12 to 24 hours in cats and 36 to 72 hours in dogs,” DeMars said.
Before starting and moving a vehicle, check under the hood and in the wheel wells to ensure there are no animals hiding. Cats in particular will often seek shelter there.
For pets who stay outside, a few extra calories will help them to keep warm. It is also important to make sure the water in their bowls doesn’t become frozen.
“Winter weather will mean your pets require a little extra care to ensure their safety,” DeMars said.
More information is available at the Oklahoma State University Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources site