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Keeping pets safe during winter weather

Though this winter started out on the mild side, we are now dealing with colder temperatures and anticipating frozen precipitation, both of which can adversely affect our pets.

Colder temperatures bring misery to short and thin-coated dogs, as well as elderly pets with arthritis or joint problems. These fragile animals benefit from wearing sweaters or coats, and owners are advised to supervise them and limit their time outdoors. These dogs also need to have their crates and beds off of cold floor surfaces and away from drafty areas. Colder temperatures force animals to burn more calories; therefore, meal portions might need to be increased. Veterinarians can advise owners regarding appropriate food intake levels.

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Lower temperatures often encourage cats and other small animals to seek a warm haven in parked vehicles. Before starting the engine, a driver should bang the sides of the vehicle, make loud noises or beep the horn to force any creatures out from under the hood or near the wheels.

Despite having furry coats, animals can suffer from frostbite. The vulnerable areas of their bodies are the paws, nose and ears. The color of frostbitten skin might change to reddish, white or gray, and the skin's surface might become scaly or sloughing. To treat frostbite, owners are advised to immediately remove all snow and ice from their pet's coat and paws and then bring the pet into a warm room. The frostbitten areas must be thawed slowly by applying warm, moist towels that are changed frequently. This procedure should be continued until the affected areas become flushed and then a veterinarian must be contacted immediately for the pet to be examined.

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Special precautions must be followed for dogs that live outdoors. According to the Carroll County Code of Ordinances, owners must take special precautions between Dec. 1 and March 15 and whenever the temperature is 35 degrees F or lower. A shelter must be provided that has weatherproof roofing, an entryway protected by a "self-closing or offset door or a flexible flap made of windproof material," a solid floor that is raised at least two inches off the ground to prevent moisture from getting in, and no metal interior surfaces. The shelter must face south or east so it is not in the way of prevailing winds. Nonabsorbent, dry bedding like straw or wood shavings should be placed inside as insulation. The shelter must be large enough for the dog to be able to stand up and turn around comfortably and also warm the interior if an artificial heat source is not available. In addition, ice-free fresh water must be provided for the dog and replaced at least twice a day in a bowl that cannot tip over.

Food, of course must be provided regularly and the condition of outdoor pets must be checked frequently. Considerate owners bring outdoor pets indoors when the temperatures plummet.

The ordinance states that owners should provide a dog shelter with a weatherproof roof, a "self-closing door, an offset outer door, or a flexible flap made of windproof material," dry bedding to provide insulation, and fresh water without ice at least twice a day in a receptacle that cannot tip over. If no artificial heat source is provided, the structure must also be small enough for dogs to warm the enclosure's interior and maintain his or her body heat, but large enough to move around in comfortably. The condition of all outdoor pets must be checked frequently. Considerate owners bring outdoor pets indoors when the temperatures plummet.

Frozen precipitation presents many hazards for animals. Pets moving through deep snow or on icy surfaces might develop torn muscles, bone fractures and head injuries. Drifting snow might reach or surpass the height of fencing so dogs could easily escape from their property. To prevent this from occurring, owners are advised to dig a trench within the perimeter of fenced areas where drifting has occurred, check the trenches periodically and re-dig if additional drifting occurs. For dog owners whose property is enclosed by an electric fencing system, the battery in the dog's collar might need to be replaced. Water-loving dogs need to be walked on leash to prevent them from jumping into frozen or partially frozen ponds and lakes. A playful plunge could sadly result in the loss of a beloved pet.

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Ice and snow melting products often contain chemicals that can irritate paw pads and could be ingested when licked. Booties for dogs could be worn — if tolerated — and offer protection, or owners should immediately rinse all paws on dogs and cats to remove any residue when they re-enter the house. Owners are advised to stock up on and use pet-safe ice melting products. Frozen precipitation might discourage some dogs from relieving themselves outdoors. Frequent shoveling and applying pet-safe ice melt on patios and sidewalks might serve as a solution.

The sweet scent of anti-freeze is attractive to dogs and, if even a small amount is licked, can cause kidney failure, damage to the central nervous system and death. Any anti-freeze leaks must be cleaned up immediately if dogs are to be allowed into garages or carports. A vet must be contacted promptly if a dog is suspected of ingesting anti-freeze.

By being aware of winter's hazards and taking proactive measures, we may prevent our pets from harm during this challenging season.

Iris Katz writes for the Life&Times section once a month.

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