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Give pets extra care during cold weather
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Animals typically can care for themselves, but pets need owners' help to prevent illness or even death when temperatures drop.
Possibly the biggest threat to pets during the winter is antifreeze, said Dr. Mark Russak, a veterinarian in the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine's Primary Care Clinic. This sweet-smelling and sweet-tasting liquid is deadly to dogs and cats.
"Antifreeze, whether new or drained from a car's radiator, should be stored in tightly closed containers in a place pets can't reach. Often it is the small puddles that drip from leaking cars that are the most deadly because owners may not notice them right away," Russak said. "Although there are some antifreezes now on the market that are safer, if you do not service your car yourself, assume the antifreeze in use is toxic."
Symptoms of antifreeze ingestion include drunkenness, listlessness, frequent urination and vomiting. If an owner suspects a pet has consumed antifreeze, Russak said to take the pet to a veterinarian immediately for emergency treatment.
"Time is critical in these cases, and treatment must begin within hours of ingestion of the antifreeze to be effective," he said.
Russak said ice-melting chemicals also can be dangerous to pets that try to relieve irritated paws by licking them. Pets consume the chemicals from their paws, and often the results are stomach irritation and vomiting.
"Owners can help prevent this problem by keeping their dog's nails clipped short and the hair between the toes short enough that ice balls won't form," Russak said. "If the only place you can walk is on salted sidewalks, either invest in doggie booties or be sure to wash and lotion up your dog's paws when you get inside. This will keep them from licking the chemicals and the drying, cracking effects of cold and salt."
Fairly large dogs with long, thick coats can tolerate outdoor living in moderately cold weather, provided they have a solid doghouse or other protected place to provide shelter against the wind, rain and cold.
The shelter should face to the south, be dry and insulated, and have a blanket or bed of hay to help them keep warm. The doghouse needs to be big enough to stand up and turn around in, but not any bigger so that it will retain body heat.
"Although many dogs get used to the cold as they remain outside, bring them in during bitter cold snaps. The best place for dogs during truly cold weather is indoors," Russak said.
Small dogs and cats usually do not tolerate cold weather well, so take them out only when necessary for exercise and bathroom breaks. A doggie sweater can help puppies, older dogs and toy breeds tolerate the cold temperatures.
Keep dogs from playing on frozen ponds because if they fall through the ice, they could either drown or die from hypothermia. Dogs can lose their scent trail in the snow and ice, get lost and die of exposure, so keep pets securely on a leash during walks.
Russak advised keeping pets off icy surfaces to prevent injuries from slipping.
"As sure-footed as they are, dogs can slip on icy steps and tear or strain ligaments or aggravate hip problems. They could even break a bone," he said. "If you would not feel safe walking in an area, the dog shouldn't be doing it either."
Dogs and cats are not the only pets that need extra attention during cold weather. CVM associate professor Dr. Sherrill Fleming said cattle, goats and sheep typically can protect themselves from cold weather, but owners should provide some assistance.
"Just make sure you provide a windbreak and shelter where they can get out of the wind and cold. You may need to give them extra bedding, and make sure they have adequate feed every day," Fleming said. "If animals already are getting a grain supplement, you may want to increase that by about 25 percent."
If animals did not previously receive grain supplements, avoid starting large amounts of grain all at once. These supplements must be introduced slowly to avoid gastrointestinal upset, Fleming said.
Horses will better withstand winter weather if owners make sure their animals are prepared.
"The big thing is having the horse come into the winter months in tip-top shape. Horses should be up-to-date on vaccinations and on a good worming program throughout the winter months," CVM associate clinical professor Dr. Ann Rashmir-Raven said.
Regularly check horses' feet, especially when the ground is muddy, because horses tend to get foot infections during wet months. Horses that get blanketed are susceptible to diseases and funguses that grow under the blanket, so remove the blanket regularly.
If horses spend a great deal of time in their stalls, make sure the area is safe, clean and free of mold and leaks. Buy quality hay and grain, and keep it covered.
"Horses can have a really hairy coat in the wintertime, so sometimes it's hard to tell if their weight is adequate. They can look good, but they've actually lost weight," Rashmir-Raven said. "Put your hand on the horse's rib cage to monitor its weight."
Owners of all animals should check water containers twice a day to make sure the water is not frozen. A heated water dish or water heater for buckets will help if owners are not able to regularly refresh the water supply.
"A water heater may seem like an extravagance, but some horses won't drink cold water when they're already cold. One water heater will cost a lot less than an emergency veterinary treatment for colic," Rashmir-Raven said.
Contact: Dr. Mark Russak, (662) 325-3432