The doctors and staff of Smith Veterinary Hospital would like to wish you and your family, a very happy and safe holiday season!
Preparing Your Pets for Winter
It’s that time of year again. Time to have the oil and coolantmixture changed, the belts and hoses checked, and the snow tires installed. We are used to thinking about winterizing our vehicles, but those of us who share our lives with animals must remember to “winterize” our pets as well. Colder winter months and the busy holiday season can pose special health risks to pets. Help your special furry friends weather the winter by considering a few simple tips.
Antifreeze is a deadly poison.
Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) has a sweet taste that many animals find irresistible. They may seek it out to drink it. Unfortunately, it only takes a small amount to cause permanent and fatal damage to the kidneys. Never drain antifreeze into the street, be careful to wipe up any spills, and store antifreeze in tightly closed containers far out of the reach of pets (and children). There is no antifreeze product available that is truly safe.
Wind-chill can be deadly.
No matter what the temperature outside, wind-chill can be devastating. That same wind-chill combined with dampness, rain, sleet, or heavy, wet snow can be fatal. It is best not to leave any dog outdoors unsupervised when the temperature drops. Cold, wet, windy snowstorms can often come up both quickly and unexpectedly. Shorthaired, very young, and old dogs are at greatest risk for problems related to exposure to cold.
A dog is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors, going outside to use the “doggy toilet”, to go for a walk, or to play a game of fetch with its owner. If, however, your dog must live outside, protection from the elements is critical. An insulated doghouse is a must. It should be elevated a few inches above the ground to prevent moisture from accumulating inside. Carpeting, a blanket, or a padded bed should cover the floor. It must be big enough for the dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably, but small enough to contain body heat. The doorway of the doghouse should face away from prevailing winds, and burlap or canvas hung over the opening can act as a “door”.
“Outdoor dogs need more calories in the winter just to keep warm.”
Outdoor dogs need more calories in the winter just to keep warm. Talk to your veterinarian about a specific dietary recommendation, as well as portion size, in order to ensure that your pet is meeting its energy requirements. Adequate water is just as important to an outdoor dog’s health as food. You will need to check the water supply frequently to make sure it does not freeze. Also, use plastic bowls rather than metal. In low temperatures, a warm, wet dog tongue can stick and freeze to metal dishes.
Pet paws are delicate
Pet paws, like human hands and faces, are susceptible to frostbite. Remove caked ice from your dog’s feet as soon as possible. Frostbitten skin may turn color, becoming reddish, gray, or white. It may become scaly and begin peeling. If you suspect frostbite, thaw out the affected areas slowly using warm, moist towels that are changed frequently. Have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the extent of the damage.
Salt and other chemicals that are used to melt snow and ice have varying degrees of toxicity. Their effects depend upon the ingredients and the amount ingested. These chemicals can burn the pads of an animal’s feet. If the pet then licks its feet to clean them, the mouth maybe burned too. Wipe off your pet’s feet with a damp towel after any exposure. Read the labels of these products, and take all recommended precautions.
Boarding Your Dog
Many owners say that they will never leave their dog in boarding kennels. However, situations may occur in which you are unable to take your dog with you. During these times, you have the following options:
- The dog stays at home and you arrange for a friend or relative to “dog sit” in your home while you are away.
- You arrange for a friend or neighbor to care for your pet in their home. This works well when the dog knows the home and the people. However, there is always a risk that your dog may escape and get lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
“Safest option since well-designed kennels are safe and secure.”
- You arrange for your dog to go to a boarding kennel. This is probably the safest option, since well-designed kennels are safe and secure. Many boarding facilities are associated with veterinary hospitals and are staffed with trained professionals to care for your pet.
Will my dog be happy in a boarding kennel?
Many dogs are very happy when they stay in kennels and even look forward to visiting. You should plan well in advance and make sure to visit the kennels beforehand to verify that the facility meets your expectations. Some kennels will recommend a series of short boarding visits lasting a few hours to allow your dog to become accustomed to being away from you.
How will I know if my dog will relax in the kennel?
Despite the fears of owners, most dogs settle into boarding life very quickly.
“It is always worthwhile to board your pet for a short period such as a weekend or a few days to see how they do before leaving them for a prolonged time.”
It is always worthwhile to board your pet for a short period such as a weekend or a few days to see how they do before leaving them for a prolonged time. One or two short stays at a kennel will help your pet adjust to being without you and get used to the boarding facility and staff. When you pick up your pet, evaluate his or her general condition. This will give you an indication of the standard of care your pet received. Be sure to ask the kennel staff about your pet’s behavior and appetite. Many pets that are unaccustomed to boarding will have a decreased appetite or drink less water during their stay. This is normal but frequent, short visits will help reduce your pet’s anxieties.
Holiday Toxins For Pets
While the holidays bring more challenges to the already difficult winter months, we can’t forget about indoor and outdoor toxins frequently seen at this time of year.
Keeping your pets healthy and safe will help keep the holidays stress free.
Are poinsettias as toxic to pets as many people think?
While poinsettias may cause gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, no significant toxicity is typically seen. Dogs and cats may have a lack of appetite or stomach upset for 1-2 days after eating the leaves of a poinsettia, but fortunately, this often resolves without any medical intervention. However, if your pet is not feeling well for more than 1-2 days, it’s recommended that you bring them to your veterinarian.
Many holiday arrangements contain lilies (Lillium species), holly, or mistletoe. Bouquets brought into the house by holiday guests should be thoroughly inspected, as lilies are one of the most common flowers used by florists. Just one or two bites from a lily can result in severe acute kidney failure in cats – even the pollen and the water that the plant is in are thought to be poisonous.
Holly berries and mistletoe can also be toxic to pets. When Christmas or English holly is ingested, it can result in severe gastrointestinal upset, thanks to the spiny leaves and potentially toxic substances found in the plant (including saponins, methylxanthines, and cyanogens). If ingested, most pets smack their lips, drool, and head shake excessively due to injury from the spiny leaves.
“Holly berries and mistletoe can also be toxic to pets.”
As for mistletoe, most of us hang it high enough that it’s out of reach of our pets. Nevertheless, it can also be toxic if ingested. Thankfully, American mistletoe is less toxic than the European varieties. Mild signs of gastrointestinal irritation may be seen, although if ingested in large amounts, collapse, hypotension (low blood pressure), ataxia (difficulty walking), seizures, and even death have also been reported.
My pet loves to play with the Christmas decorations. Is this safe?
While it is hard to resist the temptation of sparkling lights and glittering tinsel, these items can be very hazardous to pets. If your pet ingests tinsel, it can become lodged in the intestinal tract and cause a linear foreign body to develop. Correction for this includes costly surgery and, in severe cases, serious complications can arise. Many animals enjoy chewing on electrical cords from tree lights, or biting the lights themselves. This can result in electrical burns to the mouth and tongue and other complications from electrocution. Your homemade ornaments can also pose a risk. Homemade ornament dough is high in salt, which may cause electrolyte abnormalities and seizures. Hang these decorations high on the tree or pets may think they’re meant for them!
What are the dangers of potpourri to pets?
If you typically heat your scented oils in a simmer pot, know that they can cause serious harm to your cat. Even a few licks can result in severe chemical burns in the mouth, fever, difficulty breathing, and tremors. Dogs aren’t as sensitive, but it’s still better to be safe than sorry, so scent your home with a non-toxic candle kept safely out of kitty’s reach.
Dry potpourri may also cause chemical burns in the mouth, potential foreign bodies, and gastrointestinal upset, depending on the size of animal and amount ingested. While candles are often scented with oils, the largest concern with ingestion is a foreign body and potential obstruction. In addition to an upset stomach, surgical removal of the candle may be necessary in severe cases.
What foods are most problematic to my pet this time of year?
With the holiday season comes a delightful variety of baked goods, chocolate confections and other rich, fattening foods. However, it’s not wise, and in some cases, quite dangerous, to share these treats with your pets. Foods that can present problems include:
- Foods containing grapes, raisins, onions and currants (such as fruit cakes, breads, and cookies) can result in kidney failure in dogs.
- Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine and highly toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion in small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but large amounts can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias.
- Many sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a natural sweetener which is toxic to dogs. It causes a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.
- Leftover fatty, meat scraps can produce severe inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), leading to abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea.
Is ice melt safe to use in the same area that pets are around outside?
Ice melt is commonly used around entryways and sidewalks. For convenience, containers that are filled with ice melt granules are often left within a pet’s reach. There are numerous formulations available and small exposures typically lead to stomach upset and possibly dermal and paw pad irritation. Many of these products are salt (sodium) based. If ingested in large amounts, electrolyte abnormalities may occur which can result in seizures and brain damage. If your pet has consumed any amount of ice melt, it’s important to call Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian immediately.