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January 4, 2005 > The Weather Outside Can Be Frightful

The Weather Outside Can Be Frightful

by Nancy Lyon

Winter has just officially started but the weather has already brought extremely cold and wet conditions. This brings great concern for the companion animals that are thoughtlessly forced to live outdoors because their "guardians" erroneously believe that they will somehow adjust to the damp conditioned and freezing temperatures.

Despite their "fur" coats, domesticated animals like cats, dogs and other animals depend on their humans for protection from extreme weather such as freezing temperatures, heavy rains and wind. While some animals such as Huskies and Samoyeds may be more suited to very cold weather, the majority of dogs and other animals need our help and intervention.

Just as with you or me, indoor accommodations for our animal family are always best during wintry weather. The common misconception is that they will be fine if left outside. This is not true! All creatures need adequate shelter from the elements and protection against severe weather. In fact, under California law this is required for companion animals.

It's important to remember that our companion animals should not be left outside for long periods in freezing, wet weather - like humans, they too can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. Wind-chill can threaten your animal friend's life no matter what the temperature, with young and senior animals being especially at risk.

By following a few simple guidelines, you can help insure your animal's comfort and well being in these chilly times:

If you must leave your dog outside while you are away set up a suitable house in an area protected from wind, rain, and in some areas snow. Outdoor dogs must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his or her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with straw or blankets for insulation. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with a flap of heavy waterproof fabric or heavy plastic. Cats, rabbits and other small animals are subject to the same dangers and should be protected in warm and dry indoor areas.

Caution - do not use a heat lamp, space heater, or other device not approved for use with animals. This is a burn hazard for your pet and a fire hazard. Pet supply vendors sell heated mats for pets to sleep on or to be placed under a doghouse, but read and follow directions carefully before use.

While all dogs need outdoor exercise, take care not to keep them out for lengthy periods during very cold weather. Shorthaired or geriatric dogs or those with health problems need the protective warmth of a dog sweater or jacket during outside jaunts

Pets spending a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter. Keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check their water dish to make certain the water is fresh and not frozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is very low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

Winter can be tough on senior animals. Just as with humans, arthritis is worse during cold and damp weather so take special care to handle your pet gently, watch out for icy walks that may cause injuries, provide soft (and possibly heated) bedding, and administer any necessary medications. See your veterinarian if your pet is arthritic or you suspect arthritis.

Warm car engines are dangerous for heat-seeking cats and small wildlife. Parked cars attract small animals that may crawl up under the hood looking for warmth. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

If your animal companion spends time or sleeps in your garage, be on the alert for any antifreeze containers left out where they could spill or be chewed on. Just a few licks of the sweet tasting substance can be fatal. Lock up antifreeze containers and clean up spills immediately. Also, do NOT start the car in a closed garage - for your safety and your pet's safety. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a silent killer.

Winter weather can bring roads that are unsafe to travel or a veterinary office that is closed or inaccessible. Be sure to keep at least a few days supply of the basics on hand such as extra food, litter and any medication your pet takes on a regular basis.

For the adventurers who brave the snow areas with their dogs:
Dogs walking in snowy areas may get large ice balls between their pads, causing the dog to limp. Be sure to keep ice clear from this area. For dogs that have a lot of hair between the pads, keeping it clipped shorter will help prevent ice ball formation. Dog boots offer protection to those dogs that will tolerate wearing them -- try getting them used to them "before the fact."

In snow country, dogs who walk on sidewalks and roadways that have been "de-iced" with salt and chemical are prone to dry, chapped, and potentially painful paws. This will encourage them to lick their paws, and ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation and upset. Wash off your dog's paws and legs after an outing with a warm wet cloth or footbath and dry carefully.

Our recent heavy storms have put us on notice that winter has definitely arrived -- with more to come. Don't delay in making cold weather provisions to protect your pet. They will help to insure he remains healthy and comfortable. If you have any concerns about your pet's well-being and health during the cold months ahead, consult your veterinarian

OHS strongly recommends that all members of your non-human family interact and sleep inside your home.

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