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The big chill: Keeping your pets warm in winter weather
by Jessica Garcia
Nov 24, 2009 | 1727 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Cortney Maddock -
Ruckus doesn't fear cold temperatures when he wears his knit sweater and puffy jacket.
Tribune/Cortney Maddock - Ruckus doesn't fear cold temperatures when he wears his knit sweater and puffy jacket.
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Sweet Sara, a 12-year-old Dachshund owned by dog trainer Katherine Simkins, enjoys the occasional romp in the snow but she doesn’t have a thick coat of fur to protect her from the cold. So Simkins has to be cautious about how much time she allows Sara out in Reno’s winter weather.

“I have a Dachshund and a Boston terrier and they don’t have fur that would protect them as well as a St. Bernard’s would,” said Simkins, owner of dog training business Bark Busters in Reno.

With winter around the corner, many pet owners have taken precautions to keep their animals warm and healthy during conditions that can be brutal on their bodies.

Physically, a dog or cat’s most vulnerable areas for hypothermia are the ears, tails and paws, according to Dr. Doug Nesler, a veterinarian with Pyramid Animal Hospital.

“It’s all their peripheral areas,” he said. “It depends on the breed. If they get really cold in the snow, if some breeds play in the snow too much, their paws will start bleeding. … Your huskies and pit bulls, the heavier ones that play hard, can usually handle it. … Anything like huskies and golden retrievers can survive quite well out there.”

Shorthair breeds, however, may end up getting ice particles on certain areas because they lack the fur.

Simkins said dogs won’t die from the cold, but it can be painful.

“A dog with less hair should not be outside for extended periods of time,” she said. “Thick coats are for cold weather, but you have to take into consideration their age and health.”

Simkins said owners should be mindful of their pet’s winter health beyond their outdoor activities.

“More active dogs should get about 10 percent more food in winter time,” Simkins said. “When we’re cold, we burn more energy (from shivering). Plus, it gives them a little more insulation.”

Outdoor water bowls can also freeze up quickly, so replenishing pets’ water is also important to keeping them hydrated.

Filling up a dog house with blankets is not always advised, according to Simkins and Nesler. Simkins said blankets get wet and freeze.

As a general rule, Nesler said use of electric blankets is dangerous and should be avoided. If one is used, he recommended covering it with a regular blanket.

“Don’t use a heating or electrical blanket,” he said. “It will burn their skin.”

A dog’s paws, if kept wet, can lead to illnesses, so Simkins said to ensure they’re dry.

But even if an animal is starting to suffer from hypothermia, the best thing to do is to give the pet a warm bath.

“Do it kind of slow,” Nesler said. “Use warm fluids and really keep them bundled up and warm. … A heating pad right on the skin will burn them.”

If a dog is kept in the garage to avoid the outside cold, Simkins said it is important to keep them occupied so they don’t get bored and start destroying belongings stored there. Using rubber toys called “kongs,” which come in different shapes with little treats inside, can prevent dogs from chewing, Simkins said. She added it’s like a puzzle for them.

“If you’re left alone in a room with nothing to do, wouldn’t you find something to do?” she said. “You want to stimulate their minds.”

Dogs may be kept in garages because it keeps them from enduring wind chill. The garage doesn’t necessarily need to be heated to be as warm as the house, she added. Portable heaters may be used, and modern heaters are often made to shut off automatically if tipped over.

She advised owners to be aware of antifreeze. Dogs and cats alike are attracted to the fluid.

“It’s sweet and (dogs) like it, so be very careful if it is dripping on the floor,” she said. “They can get very, very sick and/or die.”

Plants like poinsettias should also be placed out of reach because they’re poisonous, Simkins said.

Nesler said treating cases of hypothermia or cold-related illnesses during the winter season locally is uncommon among the six vets at his location.

“People are pretty responsible,” he said. “Sometimes you get it when an animal gets out and gets lost. Then, there are the ones with small animals and it’s a big deal to them, like kittens or Chihuahuas or little dogs in general. They don’t have much surface area and get colder faster.”

Simkins said common sense is an owner’s best guidance in keeping their pets warm.

“Would you leave Grandpa out (in the cold) – assuming you like Grandpa?”
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