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Tales from the Pet Clinic

with Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, DACVIM

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winterizing Your Pet: Cold Weather Tips for Your Dog and Cat

By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, DACVIM

Cold weather presents a number of hazards for your pet. Some are related to cold weather and some to the escape to warmer climates from colder ones. If you are a SiriusXM subscriber, these comments are taken from my December 30 interview on Samantha Heller’s Diet and Exercise program on “Dr. Radio,” powered by the NYU Langone Medical Center on Channel 81.

Be anti-antifreeze

Winter brings with it the need for certain products to help us continue our day-to-day lives in the cold. Often, these same products pose a danger to our pets. Automotive anti-freeze, for example, contains ethylene glycol which is a potent toxin to the kidneys. It is not the same as propylene glycol, which is a safe compound found in many household products. If your pet even licks a bit of the yellow-green antifreeze from the ground, head straight to your veterinarian’s office for treatment. Pets can be saved if treated early.

Salt safety

Rock salt is another winter hazard, especially for city dogs walked on salt-treated sidewalks. The salt dries and cracks the paw pads. There are several options to prevent this problem. The simplest way is to wash your dog’s feet when she comes in after a walk. Boots are another solution, but not all dogs find boots fashionable. Finally, musher’s wax can be applied to form a protective barrier between the elements and your dog’s paws.

Avoid heat hazards

Everyone is looking to warm up during the cold winter months. Heaters, heat lamps and warm car engines are appealing to pets feeling the chill, but can result in injury. A fluffy tail might easily ignite if it brushes against a space heater. Heat lamps can cause a serious thermal burn and should never be directly aimed at a pet. A snug, warm dog house will be a much safer way to keep your dog warm outside. Cats find a nice warm car engine a cozy place for the night, but when the engine is started up the next morning, they can sustain severe trauma. On cold mornings, bang on the hood with your fist before starting the car to wake any sleeping cats to alert them before the engine turns over.

Snowbird suggestions

Over the past few weeks, a number of my patients have departed for Florida or other warm-weather states. Taking your pet on a winter holiday involves some advance planning. The Companion Animal Parasite Council, a body of experts who make recommendations to veterinarians on parasite prevention, recommend year-round preventative medications for fleas, ticks and heartworms. The southern United States are a hotbed for parasites and a vacation puts your pet at risk for acquiring one or more of the parasite-borne diseases. If for some reason you have discontinued these medications in your pet or have forgotten to give them recently, check with your veterinarian about restarting them before you head south. Every winter I see dogs and cats coming home from Florida scratching and itching from southern fleas.

Some sort of travel will be required to get to a warmer climate. If you and your pet are traveling by airplane, check the airline’s website for pet travel requirements and be sure your pet’s vaccinations meet the airline’s rules. If you and your pet are driving, try this website for dog- and cat-friendly hotels on your route.

No matter how you travel, be sure your pet has both a collar with an ID tag and a microchip in case your pet escapes.

For more cat and dog travel hints, click here.

Do you have a question for Dr. Hohenhaus? Leave it in the comments below or join the discussion in our Pet Health community.

Posted by: Ann Hohenhaus, DVM at 12:30 pm

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