Winter Weather Hazards

As winter settles in, here are a few tips to remember to ensure a healthy season. As most pet lovers know, winter can be a challenge for our pets. This article will explore some common dangers to watch for, and what to do to avoid problems.

Antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol)
This is actually a winter and summer potential problem. Cats and dogs are attracted to the sweet smell and taste of antifreeze, and will often sample some if left out in a container or spilled on the garage floor.

Antifreeze is highly toxic - it is rapidly absorbed (initial signs appear approximately one hour post-ingestion), and there is a high mortality rate. Other sources of this deadly chemical are: heat exchange fluids (sometimes used in solar collectors), some brake and transmissions fluids as well as diethylene glycol used in color film processing.

Acute cases (within 12 hours of ingestion) often present as if the animal was intoxicated with alcohol: stumbling, vomiting and depression are common signs. The kidneys are most severely affected, and even if the animal seems to improve initially with treatment, they may succumb shortly after to kidney failure. The kidneys shut down, and the animal is unable to produce urine. This type of kidney failure usually happens 12-24 hours after ingestion in cats, and 36-72 hours post ingestion in dogs. Success of treatment is dependent upon quick treatment. If you suspect that your animal has come into contact with antifreeze, contact your veterinarian immediately.

A safe alternative to Ethylene Glycol antifreeze is available, it is called propylene glycol, and while it does cost a small amount more than 'regular' antifreeze, it is worth the piece of mind.

Arthritis and Winter
Cold, damp weather aggravates arthritis in dogs and cats. Arthritis can appear in young pets, but is most common in the middle age and geriatric pets. A fracture can also make the bone susceptible to arthritis after the injury is healed. Overweight pets suffer from arthritis more than their normal-weight counterparts.

If your pet is having trouble getting up or laying down, navigating the stairs, or has started to snap or cry when picked up, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. Many new arthritis treatments are available, both natural and medicinal.

NEVER medicate your dog with human prescription or over-the-counter medications without consulting your veterinarian first!

Ice melts/Sidewalk Salts
Be sure to wipe off your pets feet as soon as they walk into your home before they have a chance to lick their paws. Sidewalk salt granules can work their way up into your pet’s paws and hide there until your pet licks them out. Most ice melts are considered dermal (skin) irritants but they can have the potential to cause harm if ingested.

Some common signs of ice-melt ingestion are salivation, increased drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, not wanting to eat, vocalizing (crying out) and possible disorientation. All sidewalk salts are different in there formulation so it is important to know exactly what is in the product if your pet did ingest any. There are pet-safe sidewalk salts that can be purchased from local pet supply stores. Although they may be a little more pricey, it’s worth the peace of mind.

The Outdoor Pet
If your pet is housed outside, make sure that adequate shelter is provided -- to shield from wind, moisture, and cold. Take extra care to ensure that your pet is comfortable and can get into and out of their housing easily.

Several pet and feed stores carry safe heated floor mats or non-electric warm bedding. Deeply bedded straw is another good insulator. Did you know that animals can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia? Watch for swollen paws and your pet constantly bothering with their feet. If your pet begins to shake uncontrollably and has a low temperature they should be seen by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Do not use a heat lamp or other type of home heater - this is dangerous, and is the cause of many fires.

Pets need to have fresh water at all times - make sure the water is not frozen during this time of year. Contrary to what some people think, animals do not know how to break the ice. Heated pet bowls are a solution for frigid temperatures. These bowls are very handy to have during the cold winter months, and are available in stainless steel or plastic. You can find them at most pet supply vendors and feed stores. Pets that live outdoors may need additional food (calories) to sustain body temperature as well. Please check with your veterinarian to decide if your pet needs additional nutritional intake.

Staying Fit
As always, exercise is important! If there is snow on the ground, check your pet's paws for ice balls or injuries. Rinse feet off if your pet has walked where ice-melts have been used. Some sidewalk salts are toxic when ingested. If your pet is having difficulty exercising due to depth of snow, slick icy surfaces, or appears to be winded, shorten the usual exercise times and monitor for any unusual signs.


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