How to keep your pet safe and warmwhen the weather is cold

“”These animals are conditioned, even bred to be cared for with the assistance of people,”” says Dr. Lawrence Fox, a past president of the Chicago veterinary medical association.

Still, not all pets will freeze their fur. Siberian huskies, St. Bernard’s, Malamute’s and many other large breed dogs cheer the arrival of old man winter. These dogs feel better on a day when its 9 degrees in January than they do on a day when it’s 90 degrees in July.

“”Even sled dogs need to be moving, and at least be somewhat acclimated to the cold,”” adds Dr. David Carron, president of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association. “”I don’t care if you have a breed with a heavy coat originally bred to pull sleds or guard herds in frigid mountain temperatures – if your dog is spending its days laying under an hot air vent, it can’t possibly be as acclimated to the cold as dogs who regularly take long walks in the cold.””

Most dogs can acclimate to the cold, at least to some extent. Much depends on the dog’s coat and its size, and just how cold it is. Thick double-coated breeds, such as the golden retriever or collie, are more tolerant to sub-freezing weather than the sparsely coated Weimaraner or greyhound. “”In general, the smaller the dog, the more difficult it is to maintain body heat,”” says Darlene Arden, of Framingham, Massachusetts, author of “”The Irrepressible Toy Dog,”” (Howell Book House, New York, NY, 1996; $17.95). “”When the temperature drops to below 35 or 40 degrees, toy breeds need a coat, especially since owners clip away much of their natural coats. If you don’t believe me, look at all the small dogs shivering; they’re freezing cold. This is when fashion becomes practical.””

So, don’t poke fun at the Papillion in purple fleece or the greyhound in a hooded sweatshirt. While there’s no excuse for a healthy husky or St. Bernard to wear a winter jacket, it can help to keep an older or arthritic sled or mountain dog feel more comfortable. Poke fun at these dogs and you’ll hurt the dog’s feelings – not to mention the owners’.

Owners’ can’t argue they don’t have fashion choices. A beige hooded Burberry plaid jacket for dogs sells for about $350 at Harrods in London or fork over $45 for a very trendy toy-breed size leopard print fur coat and cap at Cosettescloset. com (for phone, (877) 267-3883). From alone, you can choose from about a dozen styles for Fido, ranging from fashion forward reversible Alpine fleece with Velcro straps ($21 to $45); striped sweaters available in brown and blue, and raspberry and green ($8.99); denim coats with a rugged look and a back pocket ($21), and Sherpa jackets with a drawstring hood and added insulation for dogs apparently eager to climb Mount Everest ($27). Pet-wear is available at most pet stores, e-commerce sites online and in catalogs.

As for how the dogs feel about their wardrobe, even unappreciative canines that at first don’t adore their new ensemble quickly learn when they’re wearing a sweater or jacket they’re not so cold.

Grandma may cringe at the idea of buying a sweater or a fancy fleece outfit for a dog. After all, in her day dogs lived in doghouses. Of course, in her day, dogs didn’t live as long as they do today. Perhaps because they were perhaps suffering frostbite. That’s why, even Nordic and giant breeds should be taken indoors during blizzards or sub-zero temps.

Carron prefers dogs to be welcomed indoors as members of the family. However, he says, if you must keep your dog outdoors, at the very least make certain there’s available water (warmers should prevent water from freezing) and a shelter that’s both off the ground and out of the wind. Outdoor dogs will literally require at least twice as much dog food – fuel to operate their winter furnaces – than in the summer months.

Many dogs will let you know when it’s too cold, dragging their people down the street and back to their front doors after doing their business in record time. Other party animals will obligingly play fetch forever, even in a blizzard. “”When you see that little dance that dogs do lifting alternating paws off the ground, it’s too cold,”” says Carron, who is from Farmington, Mich.

It doesn’t much matter if you have a heavy-duty American Eskimo dog or little pug; all dogs have feet and perspire from their pads. When ice forms there, it can be painful and these little ice balls should be removed. Street salt used to melt snow and ice can also become imbedded in canine footpads and it stings. Worst of all is the combination of salt and extreme cold. Under these conditions, little booties help. If you or your dog refuses the idea canine footwear, consider placing a jar of warm water and a rag outside your front door or in an entrance area of your home. For one thing the dog won’t be tracking salt and snow indoors on your carpet, and for another it will prevent the pooch from licking up salt, which can cause an upset tummy.

While it’s true, cats may be enterprising enough to find warm places to snuggle; those warm places can be lethal. Fox, who is from Chicago, says each year he treats sliced and diced cats that slip under the hoods of warm cars as if they were electric blankets. That’s why it’s always a good idea to pound on your hood or toot the horn before you start up your engine.

Fox warns, “”If you feel compelled to allow your cat outdoors when it’s 20 or 30 degrees outside, at least confine your cat to the house when it’s colder than that, or during snowstorms.””

Here are some additional tips from Fox and Carron for helping Fido or Fluffy deal with the cold:

  • To pets, antifreeze taste like honey but this green molasses is as lethal as arsenic. Less than a teaspoon can kill a small dog or a cat, and as little as a couple of tablespoons can do in a Great Dane or mastiff. (Consider using less toxic antifreezes with a chemical called Propylene glycol; these kinder and gentler antifreezes include Sierra and Sta-Clean).
  • With subdivision retention ponds strewn throughout suburbia, be aware that dogs can fall through the cracks of frozen ice. People attempting to rescue dogs can fall in too.
  • When there’s lots of snow on the ground, be sure to place even the best-trained dogs on-leash. Dogs can have a difficult time seeing and smelling exactly where the lawn ends and the street begins. And motorists have an even more difficult time spotting dogs over snowdrifts.
  • A shivering dog with a blue tongue can be suffering hypothermia. Normal body temperature for a dog 100 to 102. Don’t bathe your dog; the moisture may actually keep your animal cool. Instead, throw as many blankets and towels as you can find over your pet, preferably near to a radiator or heat vent. If the dog doesn’t return to normal within 15 minutes, call your vet.
  • Keep your dog’s nails in good trim. Dogs can easily break long nails walking on ice.
  • Long ears of basset hounds, beagles, Weimaraners and other breeds can become frostbitten, and so can paws and tails. If the skin turns slightly pink or you note icicles forming on the ears or the tail, attempt to warm indoors with the human touch. Don’t administer a hot water bottle or heating pad. When in doubt, call your vet.
  • People with weekend cabins habitually dump antifreeze into toilets to keep the water from freezing. If you’re visiting a weekend cabin, check the toilets before Fido takes a sip.

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