The Vet Is In: Winter Safety for Your Pets

Dr. Marvin Ordway
By Dr. Marvin Ordway December 15, 2011 16:20

Without protection from rain, snow, cold and wind, pets left outside can suffer physically and emotionally and, in extreme cases, develop hypothermia.

Hypothermia develops when the pet loses body heat faster than it can be replaced. Subnormal body temperature, decreased heart and respiratory rates, collapse, coma, and even death can result from hypothermia. Just like humans, animals can suffer from frostbite if conditions are severe. Frostbite occurs when body parts actually freeze, and ice crystals form in the tissue, causing it to die.

Most frostbite lesions in dogs and cats are in areas that are more exposed and have less hair, such as ear tips, tails, scrotum, nipples, and vulva. Dog and cat feet are much more resistant to frostbite than human feet and hands because they are covered with fur, have thick epithelial pads, and their circulating body temperature is much higher.

The family home offers the best protection from the elements, and can also keep pets from becoming bored and lonely. If your companions do not have free access to the house, it is imperative that they have a well-insulated, well-padded structure. If the garage is the shelter, another smaller, enclosed and insulated area should be provided within to help keep the pet warm.

Many pets, if they are active and spend time outside, will need more calories to stay warm in winter. This does not include the couch potato dog or cat that spends most of the winter in the house. These pets may actually need fewer calories. Also, make sure your animal companions have access to fresh water at all times, in an area that does not freeze. Short-haired, old or ill animals will also benefit from a sweater when they go outside.

Cats seeking warmth outside, or even in the garage, sometimes climb into the engine area of vehicles. When the unsuspecting owner starts the engine, the pet can be killed or horrifically injured. Be sure you know where your cat is, or thump on the hood to scare it out of the engine area, before starting your car.

The two most common poisonings we see in the winter are from antifreeze (ethylene glycol) and chocolate. Because antifreeze has a sweet taste, many animals will drink it if they have a chance. It is extremely toxic: Just one teaspoon can kill a small dog or cat. Once ingested, antifreeze is metabolized to form calcium oxalate crystals that basically plug up the kidney tubules, causing kidney failure.

Kidney failure is not immediate, and signs may not be evident for 24 to 72 hours after ingestion. Symptoms can include depression, decreased appetite, and vomiting. At this stage, almost all animals will die regardless of treatment.

If you suspect antifreeze poisoning, have your pet’s blood tested for the toxin, and begin treatment immediately. If treatment starts early, most animals will survive. After eight hours, most animals will develop kidney failure. By the way: Don’t put antifreeze in your toilets, as dogs can ingest it that way, too.

Chocolate is very comforting for us during the cold winter months and consequently, it is also more available to our dog companions (most cats are not interested). Unfortunately, chocolate is toxic to dogs and must be kept away from “counter surfers.”

Another source of exposure may be those presents under the Christmas tree. With their superior sense of smell, our canine family members know if there is food or chocolate in a package, and will indulge if given the chance. Dogs cannot metabolize chocolate as fast as humans and, as a result, theobromine, a caffeine-like substance, rapidly increases in their blood and can cause heart and nervous system problems.

All chocolates are not equal. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains and the more toxic it is. A 50-pound dog would need to eat 14 to 20 ounces of milk chocolate to be in the toxic range, while only two to four ounces of bakers’ chocolate would result in toxicity. If your dog eats chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately to determine if treatment is necessary.

Christmas ornaments and tinsel can also be a problem for cats and dogs. If eaten, these can cause obstructions that usually require surgery.

Please keep your animal friends warm and safe and out of trouble this holiday season.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Dr. Marvin Ordway
By Dr. Marvin Ordway December 15, 2011 16:20