Winter can be just as stressful for our animal companions as it can be for us. Pets, service animals, and farm animals are living creatures and need special care during cold, windy, and wet winter conditions. Our pets are also our friends. Surveys by the American Pet Products Association show that we spend over $60 billion on our pets every year. We have a responsibility to keep our pets safe and healthy throughout the year.
Along with cold weather, winter brings the holiday season, which has its own perils for animals. Christmas treats, holiday decorations, and light strings can tempt pets into hidden dangers sending you online to read veterinarian reviews to find the best medical attention for your pets.
Equally important, many of the health issues that we associate with summer can still arise during winter. For example, in the warmth of the home, parasites can still infect your pets.
No matter how dedicated the pet owner, no one looks forward to reading veterinarian reviews on Christmas morning rather than opening presents. Here are ten tips for winter pet care so you can minimize the likelihood of an emergency trip to the vet’s office:
Get a Checkup
Depending on your pet’s age, veterinarians recommend visiting at least once per year, with young animals and senior animals needing more frequent visits. Annual checkups for your pet are not limited to any particular time of the year. However, veterinarian offices can be less crowded during the winter. Summer is the season for injuries, parasite-borne diseases, and heat-induced illnesses. These common conditions can lead to long waiting times at the vet’s office.
If you are searching for a vet for your pet, there are many resources available to you, including:
- Referral: Almost everyone has a pet. Friends, family, and neighbors may be able to refer you to a good local veterinarian. You can even ask strangers at the dog park for veterinarian reviews.
- Online veterinarian reviews: If you have moved to an unfamiliar area to buy a new home and do not know who to ask about veterinarians, online veterinarian reviews can be found for most areas. Veterinarian reviews can give you insight into the experiences other patients have had with the vet and the quality you might expect. Veterinarian reviews can be particularly helpful for owners of exotic pets because they may help you to find a vet who has experience with your pet’s species.
- Online forums: You can use pet forums to connect with other pet owners who live, or have lived, in your area and can recommend a veterinarian. Like online veterinarian reviews, online forums are particularly helpful if your pet is rare or needs special services.
- Pet shops: Pet shop owners and employees may have suggestions for veterinarians who can help your pet. You may even ask other customers for veterinarian reviews.
When you find a vet, the annual checkup will usually include an examination of your pet’s eyes, skin, and teeth. The vet will feel your pet’s belly and listen to your pet’s heart and lungs. For dogs and cats, the vet may vaccinate your pet against common illnesses such as parvo, bordetella, distemper, rabies, and feline leukemia. The vet will also take your pet’s temperature since this can help the vet identify any infection and may examine stool, urine, and blood samples for parasites or other signs of disease. Remember, if you have good experiences with a vet, leave positive veterinarian reviews so other pet owners can find their way to your vet’s office.
Preventative treatment does not end when summer ends. In mild climates, fleas, ticks, and worms remain active throughout the year. In colder climates, parasites and the insects that carry them may go dormant or die off outdoors but can remain active and alive indoors. Do not forget that the same dog kennel or barn that keeps your animals warm can also keep fleas and ticks warm.
As a result, you should continue any flea and tick control treatments during winter if you live in an area where fleas and ticks live. This is particularly important for “outdoor” pets or pets who live in a home without fencing. Dogs and cats who are allowed to roam freely can be particularly prone to picking up fleas and ticks from fields, forests, and contact with wild animals.
Likewise, pets that drink from natural sources of water, such as streams and lakes, can become infected with worms or other internal parasites. Deworming treatments can help ensure that these parasites do not adversely affect your pet’s health.
If you are unfamiliar with the parasite risks in your area, contact a local veterinarian with positive veterinarian reviews. The vet can recommend or prescribe preventative treatments for parasites where you live.
Although it may seem that furry pets are naturally insulated against the cold, freezing temperatures affect animals the same way as they affect humans. When a pet’s body temperature drops too low, your pet may experience hypothermia. Symptoms include shivering, lethargy, weakness, slow heartbeat, labored breathing, and, ultimately, death.
Pets can be particularly susceptible to hypothermia if they:
- Do not have fluffy coats. Huskies and other cold-weather animals have fluffy coats that trap air because air is an excellent insulator.
- Get wet. Water on the fur and skin can conduct heat away from the body, causing body temperature to drop.
- Are exposed to wind. Moving air is much more efficient at cooling than still air. This is why wind chill temperatures are always lower than air temperatures.
For indoor pets, hypothermia can be avoided by keeping pets indoors when the outdoor temperature is below freezing. For outdoor pets or if you do not live in pet friendly housing, you should provide your pet with shelter and a heating source. If your pet does experience hypothermia, mild cases can be treated by warming the pet with blankets and heating pads. Severe cases of hypothermia may require medical attention from a veterinary clinic. If your pet is elderly, very young, sick, or experiences severe symptoms such as labored breathing, weak heartbeat, fixed or dilated pupils, or unconsciousness, search veterinarian reviews for an emergency vet near you.
Food and Water
Cold temperatures can cause your outdoor pet’s nutritional demands to increase. Remember that food is fuel and keeping warm requires a lot of energy. Make sure that your pet is consuming food with adequate calories to maintain her body temperature.
It can be easy to forget to check your pet’s water supply. However, pets cannot drink frozen water. Make sure that your pet’s water is kept warm enough so that it does not freeze and replenish your pet’s water frequently enough to supply your pet’s needs.
Signs that your pet may be dehydrated can be easy to miss. Loss of energy, dry nose and mouth, panting, and loss of appetite can all be blamed on cold weather. Unfortunately, dehydration can be deadly and ignoring these symptoms can have dire consequences. Ensuring that your pet has a sufficient supply of freshwater is essential to avoiding dehydration.
Another winter health risk for pets is frostbite. Frostbite occurs when flesh becomes so cold that it freezes. Frostbite can permanently damage soft tissue, sometimes resulting in amputation if the frozen tissue dies.
Risk factors for frostbite include exposure to cold, windy air or cold, wet weather. As temperatures drop, the body naturally protects the internal organs by slowing blood flow to the extremities and keeping warm blood in the body’s core. These extremities, particularly your pet’s feet, toes, and ears, become susceptible to frostbite because of the lack of blood to keep them warm.
Frostbite causes flesh to become painful, turn pale or blue, and feel cold or brittle to the touch. Caught early, the body will naturally restore circulation when the pet is taken into a warm place. However, if left too long, frostbitten flesh will eventually turn black and die.
Steps to prevent frostbite are the same as the steps to prevent hypothermia. Pets should be kept indoors when temperatures drop below freezing and outdoor pets should be provided shelter from wind, rain, and snow and a source of warmth.
Although much press has been devoted to pets who are left in cars during the summer, it can also be dangerous to leave a pet inside a car during the winter. Cars are typically not insulated enough to maintain a safe temperature when the engine is off for a long period of time.
Inside a cold car, a pet can experience hypothermia or frostbite, depending on the outside temperature. Moreover, pets inside cars usually lack food and water. This can inhibit the pet’s ability to maintain a safe body temperature. Rather than leaving the pet in the car, it is much safer for the pet to remain indoors or sheltered with a heat source.
Winter can be hard on a pet’s feet. Remember that your dog or cat does not wear winter boots when it goes outside. In addition to the risk of frostbite discussed above, winter brings several other foot-related risks.
- Dry weather can cause your pet’s foot pads to crack. Periodically inspecting your pet’s paws and moisturizing if they appear to be dry can reduce the risk of cracking and bleeding. If paws are allowed to crack, walking will become painful and the foot may become infected. Moisturizers can be purchased over-the-counter or you can get recommendations for animal-safe moisturizers from a vet with positive veterinarian reviews.
- Impacted snow between your pet’s foot pads and toes can make walking uncomfortable and make a mess of your home as it melts. Snow can also hide foreign objects, like thorns, stuck in your pet’s paws. Drying your pets’ feet when they come inside will keep them comfortable and keep the new furniture clean.
- Ice melting chemicals and road salt stuck to your pet’s feet can be toxic or create health risks, like dehydration, if ingested. Washing or wiping your pet’s feet periodically will prevent the animal from licking its feet and accidentally ingesting the chemicals.
A common cause of accidental death to small pets is poisoning. Many household chemicals and cleaners can be lethal to dogs and cats in small doses. One of the most serious causes of poisoning, and most common, is antifreeze.
Antifreeze, specifically older antifreeze containing ethylene glycol, is particularly dangerous for pets. Ethylene glycol smells sweet, which provokes the natural instincts of dogs and cats to taste it. However, even in small quantities, ethylene glycol is very toxic. It can lead to brain damage, liver damage, and kidney damage when ingested.
Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning can include confusion, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, and unconsciousness. Left untreated, the pet could die. Even pets who receive immediate medical attention can develop kidney failure and die shortly thereafter.
Because of the severe consequences, prevention is often the best strategy. Antifreeze made with propylene glycol is considered safe and can be used in place of older antifreeze made with ethylene glycol. Keep pets from licking antifreeze spills and drinking from places where antifreeze may be present, such as street gutters and puddles in driveways or garages. If your radiator leaks, have it repaired. Keep antifreeze containers out of the reach of pets.
Another poison that can attract pets is chocolate. When the holidays arrive, make sure that chocolate and cocoa powder are out of your pet’s reach. Chocolate and cocoa powder contain theobromine and caffeine which can make dogs and cats severely ill. Pets may be attracted to the treats and we may be tempted to share, but even a little bit can affect them. Signs of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. While the effects are usually not fatal, your pet may become sick enough for a visit to the vet for intravenous fluids and treatment with activated charcoal.
Another holiday treat that your pets may not be able to resist are your holiday decorations. Light strings can pose a risk of electrocution and fire to you and your pet if they get chewed. Glass, wooden, or plastic Christmas tree ornaments can pose a choking hazard or damage your pet’s stomach and intestines if eaten. Remember to keep holiday decorations out of your pet’s reach and call a veterinarian if any holiday decorations go missing.
When you prepare your emergency kit, remember to include supplies for your pet. Most experts recommend having 72 hours worth of food and water stored in the event of a blizzard, power outage, or other natural disasters. If you have pets, you will need 72 hours worth of food and water for them as well.
Your emergency kit also includes your prescription medications and a first aid kit. Include your pet’s medications with your medications when you prepare your emergency kit. And remember that your pet will also need waste bags and, for cats, litter in case you need to hunker down in basements and your pets are unable to go outside.
In preparation for emergencies, you may want to investigate microchipping your pet. If you get separated during a natural disaster, a microchip may the only way for you to recover your companion.
You and your pet can enjoy a healthy and safe winter season if you stay warm, keep hazards out of your pet’s reach, and prepare for emergencies.