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Cold weather and holiday tips for pets

November 17, 2015
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Like or not, winter is here, and we need to consider how this change in seasons affects our pets.

Dealing with the cold, snow and ice

  • Once the temperature drops below 20 degrees, it's time to bring your pet indoors. When they are out, make sure they are not exposed to the cold for extended periods of time. Be aware that the wind chill affects your pet just like it affects you.
  • Shorter haired dogs or dogs acclimated to warmer climates may need a coat to stay comfortable when it gets cold outside.
  • When your dog is outdoors, make sure it has access to adequate shelter at all times. Dog houses should be positioned or designed such that the wind does not blow through the door into the house.
  • If your pet is outdoors, make sure it always has access to fresh water. If the temperature drops below freezing, you will need a heater for the water bowl. Snow is not an acceptable substitute!
  • When your pet is indoors, make sure it has a warm, dry spot that is away from drafts. Tile floors and uncarpeted areas may become cold and uncomfortable.
  • If you have a long-haired pet, make sure you keep it groomed and free of mats and tangles. While long hair will act as an insulator, it loses its insulating properties when it becomes matted.
  • If your pet has long hair on its feet or in between their pads, you may want to have your groomer cut that hair short, so it does not accumulate snow when your pet is outdoors.
  • If your pet is out in the cold a great deal, you may want to increase the amount you feed it, as it will be expending additional calories to stay warm.
  • If your pet gets wet in the rain or snow, dry it off with a towel when it comes back inside.
  • If your pet has been walking on areas that have been treated with salt or any deicer, wipe its feet and pads with a damp cloth. You may want to consider using one of the pet safe products for melting ice.
  • Leaving your pet in a car can be just as problematic in the winter time as it is in the summer. If you leave the motor running, always leave a window partially open in case you have an exhaust leak.
  • Be careful if your pet has access to frozen ponds or streams. It can slip and fall in, or the ice can break and it can fall in.
  • Crusty snow and ice can have sharp edges that can cut the skin and pads of some of the thinner-skinned breeds.

Other seasonal hazards

  • Antifreeze, which often collects on driveways and roadways, is highly poisonous. Although it smells and tastes good to your pet, it can be lethal.
  • Be very careful of supplemental heating sources, especially those with a flame. Fireplaces and portable heaters can severely burn your pet. Make sure all fireplaces have screens and keep portable heaters out of reach.
  • Make sure your wood is stacked securely so that your pet cannot cause it to fall over.
  • Be aware that cats often will crawl into an engine compartment of a vehicle to keep warm. Slap your hood before starting your car in the morning.
  • Like people, pets seem to be more susceptible to illnesses in the winter. Do take your pet to a veterinarian if you see any suspicious symptoms.
  • Don't use over-the-counter medications on your dog without first consulting with your veterinarian.

Dealing with the holidays

November and December are filled with wonderful opportunities for us to gather with family and friends. These gatherings can be a hectic, intimidating time for our pets. Dogs and cats do not always enjoy meeting new people or the frenetic activity that often comes with a holiday gathering.

  • While many of us enjoy the holidays, they can also be very stressful. Your pets can feel this stress as well, especially if they are not used to the frantic activity and houseful of guests that often accompany the holidays. Make sure your pet has a quiet, comfortable hideaway if it chooses to abstain from holiday festivities. Sometimes boarding your pet can make the holiday more enjoyable for it, you and your guests.
  • Pets do not make good holiday gifts, especially if the person receiving the gift is not aware of it. If you want to get a pet related gift for someone, get him or her a book on selecting a pet, or a leash or toy for the pet to come.
  • Many holiday plants such as holly, mistletoe and poinsettias are poisonous to pets. Make sure they are someplace where your pet cannot get to them.
  • Be cautious about where you leave holiday gifts, especially those with food inside. A misplaced box of chocolates can kill a dog.
  • Candy and other holiday treats sweetened with Xylitol can also be fatal when pets ingest them.
  • Keep lights and fragile ornaments off the lower branches of your holiday tree where your pet can get to them.
  • Make sure all electrical cords for holiday lights and decorations are located where your pet will not become entangled in them or attempt to chew on them.
  • Avoid using edible ornaments on your tree.
  • Tinsel can be very attractive to dogs and cats and can also be fatal if ingested.

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor and the 2014 Association of Professional Dog Trainers Dr. Ian Dunbar Member of the Year. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Voice of Maine (103.9FM, 101.3FM, 1450AM & woofmeowshow.com) every Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Don also writes about pets at his blog:www.words-woofs-meows.com.

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