Use common sense to keep pets safe during the winter

Use common sense to keep pets safe during the winter


Several communities want to pass laws making it illegal to keep pets outdoors, if the temperature falls below a certain level.

“It’s a good thought, but I’m not sure how you choose a number,” says Dr. John Benson, a veterinarian in Bangor, Maine. “For a pug, below 30 degrees is pretty cold. But for a Husky 30 degrees is downright balmy.”

Dr. Jim Humphries is a veterinarian in Colorado Springs, Colo. He says, “You can’t legislate every situation. For example, if it’s 20 degrees but the dog has shelter, water that won’t freeze (there are heated water dishes) and a free choice to go indoors (though a doggy door), that’s very different compared to a dog chained to a fence without shelter or water. What it amounts to is that you can’t legislate common sense.”

But perhaps common sense is something more pet owners can use. In Bangor, Benson recently treated a beagle that was kept outdoors when the temperature dipped below zero. Aside from suffering frostbite, the dog was so hypothermic that he lapsed into a coma.

“This was a hunting dog, and some people just think these dogs can always tough it out. And, also, that if they’re taken indoors it ruins them,” Benson said. “Well, that’s absurd. I know many great hunting dogs that are indoor dogs.”

The beagle’s life still hangs in the balance.

Cats are very smart about finding warm places. One favorite is to slink under a car hood. To them, it is like an electric blanket.

As Tony Orlando says, “Knock Three Times.” Knocking on your car hood is a good idea before you start your engine. Humphries once ran an emergency practice and he says each year he treated mangled cats.

“We’re talking about very serious internal injuries,” Orlando said. “Some cats just don’t make it even after four hours of surgery. All because we let our cats outdoors when the weather is very cold.”

Of course, some people respond by saying, “but my cat wants to go out.”

“Oh, come on now. Who’s the responsible adult here?” asks Humphries. “Did you let your children run in the middle of the street just because they thought it would be fun to do? It’s dangerous, so you say, ‘no,’ for their own good and their own safety.”

Another potential winter danger is snow. While it is fun for dogs to play in, in urban areas when snow is piled high, dogs can have a difficult time discerning where the sidewalk ends and where the street begins, so they run into the street.

Snow combined with cold also can create those little ice balls that get into the foot pads. Street salt only makes matters worse, and those dogs will dance because it hurts.

Humphries says using baby wipes to wipe the salt off before going indoors can prevent the pooch from tracking salt on your carpet or licking salt off her paws. If she licks enough salt, she can get an upset tummy. An even better option is to put booties on the dog.

“I know some dogs are embarrassed, well, at least their people are embarrassed by the booties,” Humphries said. “But it really is the best way to protect your dogs’ paws.”

While Nordic breeds like Malamutes and Huskies relish weather that seems fit only for polar bears, most dog breeds don’t. Certainly small dogs have the most difficulty retaining body heat.

“When the temperature drops below 35 or 40 degrees, toy breeds need a coat,” said Darlene Arden, an expert on toy breeds and author of “The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Books of Wellness and Preventative Care for Dogs.”

Even many larger dogs are far more comfortable in coats or sweaters in cold weather, like the Rhodesian ridgeback, Weimaraner, boxer and Dalmatian. Sight hounds, like greyhounds and whippets, also require protection from the cold.

“Winter games can be fun. It’s a matter of using common sense to keep our pets safe,” Benson says.

Tribune Media Services

Copyright 2004

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