Winter can be a very strenuous time for dogs and cats, especially those that live outdoors. There are a number of things you can do to help your pets avoid health problems during the cold months of the year.
1. Outdoor dogs and cats need a dry, insulated pet house or shelter away from wind and rain. Keeping warm demands extra calories, so feed more when the temperature drops.
2. Water is another obvious, absolute necessity. While temperatures remain below freezing, it is imperative that your pet have access to clean water several times a day.
3. Cats often nap in warm car engines. Knock on the hood or honk the horn, then wait a few minutes before starting the car.
4. Pets like the taste of antifreeze, but small amounts can kill them. When draining antifreeze, place it in a tightly closed container and store it out of reach. De-icer and other chemicals can be very dangerous to pets- always read label warnings.
5. Frostbite can occur on ears, paws, and tails. The skin will first turn red, then white or gray. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has frostbite.
If you have a dog or cat who normally lives outside, please do consider giving it straw or bedding, and be sure that it has adequate shelter. If you have the space available, it might be time to let it spend the night in a warm, dry garage protected from the harsh temperatures.
In addition to caring for our domestic pets, winter is also a time of food crisis for all warm-blooded wildlife. All of the winter birds and mammals of our region face the necessity of finding enough food each day to keep themselves alive and warm until the next day. Their diet may vary from day to day and place to place, depending on what can be found. Many will not find enough food to survive.
Weed seeds, wild berries and acorns are the natural food for the majority of our winter birds. Others search the trees and thickets for dormant insects, their eggs and larvae.
Water fowl like geese, ducks, and herons are especially vunerable. Frozen ponds cut off their supply of food, and also their safety. Being on the water provides them a refuge from predators.
Cold temperatures take a toll on animals that lack thick insulation, such as opossums who have furless feet. In general, winter is a cruel time for all of our wildlife.
At All Creatures Animal Hospital, we encourage people to put up bird and or squirrel feeders and keep them clean and full. Providing shelter for wildlife in the form of trees and shrubs is also recommended. Some people put out dog or cat food for the local raccoons and possums, then are surprised to find that Blue Jays also like it.
The animals that are helped stand a greater chance of surviving the winter. Lets all do what we can to help all outdoor creatures who are weathering these tough winter months.
Dr. Dan Meakin is the owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital, 1894 Ohio Pike in Amelia. Call (513) 797-PETS.