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Winter safety & your pet

By David Webster and Rachael Fowler
Posted Monday, January 16, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - Winter has arrived in Chatham County. While we are fortunate that we do not suffer the temperatures and wind chills that our northern neighbors do, we need to be prepared, as do our pets. There are several things we as pet owners can do to prevent our animals suffering from the misfortunes winter brings us.

Dogs and cats alike must have access to wa-ter at all times. While this may seem like a given, sometimes folks don’t realize the danger of their water source freezing. This can easily be rectified by checking that water bowl a cou-ple of times a day, or better still, placing it in an area where the temps won’t affect it. For those people who have strictly outdoor animals, win-ter issues may be more dangerous. Hypothermia and frostbite, (believe it or not) do occur in this area. This can cause injuries such as loss of limbs, ears, and tails and can be fatal to your pet. Shelter for your pets (required by law), must obviously be made available. However, insulating that shelter is key. We know that some dogs may chew up blankets, beds, towels etc. In these instances, hay or straw can make for warm bedding. Installing a flap or offsetting the door of the doghouse can increase warmth, and block wind chill tremendously.

We all want our pets to experience the holi-day festivities with us. Typically, we think the best way for us to share this with them, is with food! Inevitably, at any veterinary hospital in the days that follow our holiday feasts our ca-nine friends are seen for severe belly aches. These aches are brought on by the extreme change in diet, or obstructions caused by bones. So when it comes time to give “Fido” a holiday treat, how about a small spoonful of gravy over “Fido’s” regular dog food!

While dogs are the main culprits in the food department, cats have there place in holiday mischief as well. Those shiny, stringy, ribbons make for an excellent toy in your cat’s mind. Unfortunately, those ribbons and bows are an obstruction, followed by a surgery, waiting to happen. Keep your wrapping supplies behind closed doors, clean up well after the unwrap-ping, and keep those attractive ornaments out of reach for kitty!

Ethylene glycol toxicity, caused by anti-freeze ingestion, is the most common cause of acute kidney failure in dogs and cats. Early signs include nausea and vomiting, depression, and drinking water excessively. There are tests to detect ethylene glycol poisoning within 1-6 hours of drinking it, but the test is pointless af-ter 72 hours.

To try and treat successfully, therapy must be initiated within 8 hours of drinking anti-freeze. There are two antidotes but they must be given within 3-6 hours of ingestion. If treated before blood results indicate kidney damage has already begun, then the prognosis is favorable. However, if the results indicate that the kidneys have already been damaged, the prognosis is poor. While this is a year-round problem, it is seen more frequently during the early winter months when people are changing the coolant in their cars.

Last but not least I’ve had several people over several winters inquire about heartworm and flea/tick control in the winter months. The answer is yes, your pet needs to stay on them for several reasons. First of all, as of December 20th, I am still finding ticks on dogs and cats (this is common for Chatham County). Unfortunately, it only takes a few warm days to allow the mosquito population to restart their lifecycle, spreading heartworms to those unprotected pets. While most intestinal parasites are dormant throughout the winter, the whipworm is less affected, and therefore can cause infections to pets throughout the winter. Finally, the makers of the heartworm preventatives will always pay for treatment should your pet ever be infected with heartworms, with the stipulation that they are given the preventative year round. Let’s make this winter a safe one for our loyal canine and feline companions.

David Webster is a veterinarian and owner of Hope Crossing Animal Hospital 919-542-1975

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