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K-State veterinarian shares tips to help pets cope with winter chill

Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021

dog under balnketWhen the weather gets frigid outside, a Kansas State University veterinarian says it's time to bring some pets inside


MANHATTAN — A Kansas State University veterinarian says the current frigid temperatures mean it's time to consider bringing some pets, especially dogs and cats, inside.

"Pets that are not acclimated to the colder weather and those that are very young or old should be brought in during the colder temperatures," said Susan Nelson, clinical professor at the Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Even dogs with heavy coats may need to come inside during periods of frigid temperatures. Nelson recommends keeping dogs with heavy coats in a slightly cooler room or the garage to prevent them from getting too warm and uncomfortable. Short trips inside the house before a long period of cold can give pets a chance to become accustomed to the atmosphere indoors.

Some pets may get nervous and panic while inside. Keeping them in a carrier or crate may help to ease the transition, Nelson said. If their nervousness is severe, talk with your veterinarian about calming medication.

Make sure pets know their food and water locations, too, when you move them inside. If your pet is not housebroken, Nelson recommends keeping them on floors that are easily cleaned.

Once inside, pets can be exposed to an environment that contains different hazards than those found outdoors.

"Lilies, dieffenbachia and philodendron are just a few of the indoor plants that can be toxic to pets," Nelson said. "Take inventory of what plants you have and find out if they are poisonous before bringing pets inside."

Some common items found in the home can be harmful to our furry friends.

"Some human foods, such as chocolate, raisins and onions, can be dangerous to pets," Nelson said. "Pets also may chew on electrical cords. In addition, candles and potpourri can be hazardous, so keep pets supervised while in the house and take appropriate precautions."

When given the proper care, pets can be comfortable outside during cold weather, Nelson said.

"An outside pet shelter should not be too big in order to prevent the loss of insulation and heat," she said. "The door should face the south or west to reduce wind gusts. Use clean straw or hay for bedding as blankets tend to get trampled easily and then lose their insulating effect. If your pet will allow it, hang a blanket over the door or use a pet flap to keep out the wind."

For cats, consider a cozy box in a sheltered area, Nelson said. Straw bedding works great for them as well.

"Outside water bowls should be checked at least twice a day for ice, or better yet, a pet-friendly heated water bowl should be used," Nelson said. "Outside-dwelling pets also may benefit from an increase in calories through a higher caloric food or feeding more of their regular diet. This will help them maintain body heat."

The age of the pet can make it more susceptible to cold weather, as younger and older pets are more prone to hypothermia and need extra attention. Nelson added that some diseases also can make it harder for pets to adjust to temperature changes.

"Arthritic pets should be treated with extra care as well," Nelson said. "Keep them indoors in a warm and well-cushioned area. Talk to your veterinarian about pain medications and possible diet changes that may help with this problem."

If you have a short-hair dog, sweaters are a good idea, Nelson said, preferably ones made out of cotton, fleece or natural fibers. Make sure that the sweater fits well and does not catch the dog's feet or can be easily pulled off. Sweaters with decorations that could be torn off and ingested should be avoided.

Outdoor cats will seek warmth and this sometimes includes near or on a car engine. Nelson recommends honking the horn on your vehicle or banging on the hood before starting the engine in order to scare off any cats that may be warming themselves.

Pets that walk on sidewalks and driveways run the risk of picking up rock salt, ice or other chemicals on the pads of their feet.

"Rinse off the feet of pets if they have been on salted or chemically treated walkways; do not let them lick it off," Nelson said. "It is best to try to avoid treated driveways, but if your pet must frequently walking on these surfaces, consider booties."

Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Nelson said to be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle and consider using products that contain propylene glycol, rather than ethylene glycol, because it is more pet friendly — but still not entirely harmless.

Frostbite can be an issue on the ears, feet and noses of pets. To avoid frostbite do not let your pet out in extreme cold for a long period of time. Chances are that if it is too cold for you to be outside for very long, it's probably too cold for your pet to stay out much longer as well, Nelson said.