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Don't Let Furry Family Members Freeze Tonight

Here are some tips from Dr. Michelle Haynes on how to keep your pets safe, happy and healthy during the winter.

Douglasville Patch: How can people protect their pets from the low temperatures, snow and winter weather?  

Dr. Michelle Haynes:  Remember, most of our pets are already partially prepared by having a thick fur coat that naturally provides insulation and protection from the environment. However, providing a warm place to get relief from the cold is still very important. This may be an insulated dog house padded with a bed, blankets, straw, or a set-up with a thick plastic dog house door. Also, many pets will seek shelter in a garage or covered porch, but they should also be provided with a warm bed to curl up on. The bottom line is that the best way to protect our pets from the elements is to bring them inside our warm homes. This is especially important for young, old, very thin or ill pets that may not be able to adequately regulate or maintain their body temperature. As for pets playing in the snow, if they are in good health and have limited exposure directly to the snow, they are well equipped for a little fun!

Douglasville Patch: Can our pets suffer from frostbite and other weather-related conditions? 

Haynes: Yes, pets can suffer from frostbite, but this is an infrequently seen problem. Most pets suffer from neurologic depression and cardiovascular shock, and in severe cases can also suffer from respiratory depression, and blood clotting problems due to prolonged hypothermia. Owners should be prepared to bring their pet indoors and then in immediately for an examination and treatment if impaired consciousness, lethargy, cold gums, shivering, or any other untoward sign of illness is detected. We typically treat mild to moderate hypothermia with warm IV fluids, warming bottles that can be wrapped in towels and safely tucked around the pet and warmed blankets.  I caution anyone against using a heating pad, as it can burn a debilitated animal and cause severe injury to the pet's skin. 

Douglasville Patch: If I have a dog that hates the cold and absolutely refuses to go out in the mornings. Is there anything I can do to coax her outside?  

Haynes: Well, most of us just don't like being cold. If you have a small dog, or one that is very thin or old, you may be able to make her more comfortable by providing her with a doggy coat. Just remember, she can get overheated if she stays in something warm and thick while indoors. After all, she already has a furry coat on! On a side note, any dog that is sensitive to the cold even when it is not very cold out should be checked for hypothyroidism (this is done by a simple blood test). Hypothyroidism can predispose our pets to hypothermia if left outdoors in freezing conditions.

Sarah's Critters: It's so tempting to share your human treats with your pet. Are there any dangers associated with that? 

Haynes: Don't! We very commonly see pets coming in for vomiting and diarrhea, and the busiest days for this are those following Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine's Day. To you it may seem like a harmless little taste, but to your pet's digestive tract, fatty, spicy foods are an invitation to release excessive digestive enzymes, and they actually start to digest the lining of the stomach and small intestines. This commonly translates into a vomiting, dehydrated, miserable pet, and an owner faced with the reality of leaving that pet for hospitalization, IV catheterization, fluids, etc. If you must feed your pet something different, why not try a new dog treat (just don't overdo that by feeding too many treats either)? The most common foods that we have around that can be toxic or poisonous to our pets are grapes (this includes raisins and currants), mushrooms, onions, macadamia nuts, chocolate and many caffeine containing products.

Douglasville Patch: Do you have tips for traveling with your pets? 

Haynes: I recommend that you plan to take several breaks for walks and to offer food and water when on a long road trip. If your pet suffers from car sickness, I don't recommend that you feed her a large meal and then put her in the car immediately. Allow your pet some time to digest her food and plan on feeding small frequent meals during the journey. Some pets may benefit from anti-nausea medications, which your veterinarian can prescribe. Also don't forget that cats need an opportunity to use the litter box and eat and drink, too!  When traveling by plane, it is a good idea (and may be required by the airline) to have an examination to certify your pet for travel. Most small pets will be allowed to travel in a carrier under the seat in front of you, and those that will travel in the climate-controlled baggage area need to be examined to make sure they are healthy enough for that climate and type of travel.  Don't forget to make a list of some of the veterinary hospitals along the way or at your destination to have on hand in case of an emergency. For those pets that do not travel well, they may also benefit from anti-anxiety medications or a light sedative while on the road.

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