Cold Weather Tips for Pet Owners

Dr. Hillary Segl

Baby It's Cold Outside!

December is here, and with it we already have some unusually cold days. How cold is too cold for your pet? If the temperature is at or below freezing, be sure to bring pets indoors. Cats can be let out for short periods but should come in after a couple hours at most. Dogs can go for walks and play time, but put a jacket or sweater on them if they have very short fur, have been clipped down (for surgery or routine grooming), or have very lean bodies – like Greyhounds. Consider covering the pet if the weather is wet, too; damp fur is going to get colder, faster. Don't let pets swim when it's very cold out either. If they get soaked in a local pond or stream,  dry them off as soon as you can. The salt put on roads and sidewalks is not poisonous, but can be irritating to the feet. Wipe them off with a damp cloth when you get home if you see salt on the pads. Car anti-freeze IS very toxic, so don't let pets anywhere near this and clean up spills or leaks immediately!

Don't forget to use preventatives even now. If the daytime high temperature is 50 degrees or above, ticks and fleas will be out. One night of frost is not enough to kill them! Heartworm with intestinal parasite prevention, like Heartgard Plus, should be used year round.

Holiday decorations can be hazardous. Most people are aware that tinsel can block up a pet's gut if eaten. Christmas trees with strings of lights can be a choking hazard if curious cats climb into the branches and get it caught around their neck. Place the strings far back in the tree or block it off so cats cannot climb it. Be sure the tree is quite stable so they can't knock it over. Don't put edible ornaments on it; dogs will eat anything, including salt dough and dried sea creatures. (As a child, my pet Basset Hound ate several dried starfish and sand dollars. Yes, they will eat ANYTHING.)

Holiday dinners and parties are lots of fun. Avoid giving dogs any fatty treats, as this can lead to pancreatitis. Pets should not eat anything in the onion family (onion, garlic, etc). Chocolate can be toxic to pets, as can sugar-free items that contain the sweetener xylitol. Remember that grapes and raisins can also be toxic, and we still do not know the source of this. If you have any questions, call us or the local emergency clinic if it's after hours.

New Year's will see many folks celebrating: if you do decide to pop champagne corks, don't aim at the pets, and be aware the loud noise may startle some of them. If fireworks are going to be let off near your home, put the pets someplace quiet. If they are badly frightened by the noise you can call us to inquire about sedatives for them ahead of time. 

Holidays should be fun, not frightening. Look for safe toys to entertain the furkids on snow days, new treats, a brightly colored sweater or glitzy collar, or a warm fuzzy bed. If your dog likes snow like mine does, take them out to chase snowballs in the yard. Happy holidays!