Winter Precautions for Your Pets
by Gale Landingham

(Sixteenth article)

Itís 24 degrees at my house this morning, so itís time to talk about keeping our companion species safe from the effects of the Valleyís lovely winter weather.

We have two earless felines in our family. Bob got lost for a week and came home with frost-bitten ears and Rocky arrived at the local shelter already earless. Several years back, our family also took in an old fella with about 1/3 of a tail. The old man had crawled up into a carís engine compartment to stay warm and his tail was mangled by the cooling fan when a neighbor re-started the car. It was 10 degrees below zero, and his cries only got louder as he wandered the road, losing blood and in pain, waiting for his humans to get home. We rushed him to a veterinarian hospital and probably saved his life through that action.

Probably the best prescription for winter's woes is to keep your furry family members inside. The happiest dogs are those who are taken out frequently for exercise but kept inside the rest of the time. Most cats are very happy to spend most of the winter inside, as well. Pets are social animals; most crave human companionship. Your animal family members deserve to live indoors with the rest of the family. Any pregnant pet MUST be kept inside, and accompanied at all times when sheís outside. Some expectant mothers may make poor choices about where to give birth, and newborn kittens and puppies are especially vulnerable to cold temperatures.

No matter what the temperature, wind chill can threaten a pet's life. If your dog is kept outdoors, be sure he is protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse large enough to allow him to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with straw. If you prefer to use blankets, check them daily to make sure the blankets are clean and dry. The doghouse should be turned away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can dry and crack the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe their feet with a damp towel before your pet licks them and ends up with those same chemicals in his mouth. Inspect their foot pads regularly for signs of frostbite, too. Thereís a reason mushers use those booties on their dogs. Recovering from a bad case of frostbite on the feet is long and painful for any animal. Prevention is the best cure.

Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, that may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring hidden animals, bang on the hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife, or your family.

With a few precautions, people and pets can all enjoy a safe winter.

Gale can be reached at 841-0502.

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