K.J. Goldenberg - DMV

All

A pet owner’s winter survival guide

It’s 6 a.m., it’s still dark out, it’s minus-20 with the wind chill, and Fido is dancing around your feet ready for his morning walk. While you bundle up to brave the shortest walk your eager dog will let you get away with, what are you doing to protect him from Montreal’s harsh winter?

Our pets have the benefit of a built-in coat, but not all furs are created equal. Arctic breeds like Huskies, and even Pomeranians, have double-layered fur that traps an insulating layer of air near the skin. Other breeds are not so blessed. Dogs with short or thin coats, as well as those who are underweight, very young or in their senior years all benefit from extra insulation. Winter coats are more than a fashion statement for these pets. Pick a jacket that covers from neck to tail base and wraps around the chest and belly where fur is thinnest. Since warm joints move better and are less painful, arthritic pets should have their shoulders, elbows and knees covered, too.

Next on the winter weather check list are bare paws. The cold can cause chapped skin around foot pads, and snow and ice can accumulate between toes causing irritation (dermatitis) or frostbite. Street salt can further irritate skin, and can cause stomach upset if you pets lick it off their paws. Often, wiping your pet’s feet with a dry towel after each romp outside does the trick. For the more sensitive pooch, pet booties should become part of the walk routine. Remove boots once indoors so sweaty paws can dry off. You can soothe rough or irritated skin with an ointment. I like bag balm; available at most pharmacies or pet supply stores, it was originally made to protect cow’s udders from the cold.

Another important part of winter safety is staying visible; the season’s short days means that your walks are mostly happening in the dark.  Use a reflective leash and collar, and stick a reflective stripe on your pet’s jacket and on your own (like the ones kids wear at Halloween; available year-round at sporting stores). An LED flashlight on your keychain is useful when crossing the street or when that poop to scoop isn’t right under a street light.

Finally, make a habit of checking between toes and looking at ear- and tail-tips for frostbite every time your dogs or cats come in from the cold. Bright red skin is at risk; white or black skin needs medical attention. You can start by soaking the area in warm (not hot) water for 15 minutes, but remember that damage to deeper layers of skin can take 2-3 weeks to fully develop and have it checked by your veterinarian.  Pets that come in shivering, wet or drowsy may be hypo­thermic. Dry them off by rubbing vigorously with a towel, wrap them in a blanket and place a warm water bottle between their arms and legs, then bring them straight to a veterinary hospital. Catching the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia early is the first step to successful treatment.

Always talk to your veterinarian before using a new product, or if you need advice more specific to your pet’s circumstances.

Dr. K.J. Goldenberg is a veterinarian at the Pierrefonds Animal Hospital.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>