Pets: Listen to your pets' winter tails

By AL SWANSON  |  Feb. 28, 2010 at 5:30 AM
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CHICAGO, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- As another winter season winds down, it's a good time to give faithful pets a going over to find out how they're holding up to weather stresses.

Other than birds, most pets can't talk, so owners will have to take the initiative.

Dog and cat owners should be especially vigilant to make sure their four-legged charges are protected from the elements during the cold and receive proper care if they do get sick.

The major winter dangers for dogs and cats are frostbite, road salt, antifreeze and ice.

Most dogs love snow, and even though they may have furry protective coats, veterinarians say they can suffer from hypothermia -- no matter what breed. If it's cold enough outside a dog's ears and the noses of both dogs and cats can become frostbitten.

"In most cases, animals will become lethargic when they enter hypothermia," Andrea Niese of Kessen Veterinary Clinic told The Delphos Herald. "They might start wandering around like they really don't know where they are or what they're doing. There are also the obvious things such as excessive shivering and blue or cold extremities."

A dog with a long coat will be warmer than a Chihuahua, but ice melting salt can still get on their feet. When you see a dog limping on a salted sidewalk it's a sign salt really does hurt paws.

My dogs are trained to offer their paws for inspection and cleaning after our winter walks. It was a lot easier than paper training.

The Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News recommends trying a paw pad product called "Musher's Secret," to keep ice balls and salt out of your pet's paws. If your pet won't wear doggie booties, a non-stick cooking spray like Pam can temporarily help protect pets' feet.

It's not a good idea to let even the most independent pet roam free outside during the winter. Snowstorms can become disorienting and animals can fall through thin ice. If a dog normally is kept outside, its water can freeze leading to dehydration.

Warming up the car can pose a danger if an outdoor cat is around. In cold weather, outdoor cats often will curl up under warm car hoods to take a snooze. And keep the pets out of the garage because less than a teaspoon of sticky-sweet tasting antifreeze can kill a dog or cat.

If you know your pet has swallowed or licked antifreeze, call the vet immediately and take it to a clinic to induce vomiting.

Needless-to-say homeowners should never use antifreeze to de-ice sidewalks in place of rock salt. A limping pet is better than one with permanent liver damage.

Like older people, aging pets can run into cold weather difficulties -- and pets age faster than humans.

Older pets suffer vision loss, digestive problems, arthritis, muscle loss and can act out aggressively if they are in pain.

Clear signs that a dog is undergoing stress include trembling, increased visual scanning, ears back, heavy panting and a tucked tail.

Isolating a sick dog can lead to loneliness. Let the animal know you care even if you have to tether it to prevent accidents.

A recent survey in Britain found more than 1 million people took time off work in 2009 to look after a sick pet, and an estimated 8 million days were taken to grieve the loss of a pet, The (Wellington, New Zealand) Dominion Post reported.

One of the strangest pet insurance claims filed last year was for Alfie, a chocolate Labrador who was rushed to the vet after he ate a wooden cooking spoon being used to mix cake batter. A Staffordshire Terrier named Busta swallowed a squeaky rubber duck bath toy and a bulldog, who remains anonymous, ate most of a wooden chair.

We've been fortunate. Our dogs have never had a major health crisis, but if they were struck by a car or somehow got hold of antifreeze, we'd do whatever we could to help them.

During a recent January thaw, I was walking the dogs in the alley when Brandi, grabbed something from a snowdrift and began chewing. "Leave it! Drop it!," I commanded. And the little pup spit out a jagged piece of chicken bone.

We had been working on "Leave it" for a year and fortunately the command worked when I needed it.

I praised her and continued the walk. As we headed home, Barkley (who knows better) grabbed a clear plastic bag exposed in the melting snow. Before I could say "Leave it!" Brandi turned her head, snatched the bag from his mouth, and spit it out. A case of, "If I can't have it, neither can you?"

"Smart dog," I said praising her. "Treats all round."

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