Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Fido Fights the Freeze: Cold Weather Tips for Your Pets


Pet Column for the week of January 22, 2007


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brookelynn Nitzkin
Information Specialist

Most of us throughout the country will agree that this winter has been especially mild, but it seems that as soon as we let our guard down mother nature sends in a cold front to remind us who's in control. Our pets have to weather the weather as well as we do and there are some things you can do to make your pet more safe or comfortable throughout the winter months.

Owners who house pets in garages or generally allow them outside unsupervised in the winter have some safety issues to consider, says Dr. Petra Volmer, a veterinary toxicologist formerly at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Urbana, Ill.

She says that common items that we typically utilize during the winter months can cause harm to your pets. Items such as anti-freeze can be deadly. Pets may ingest anti-freeze because it is reported to have a sweet flavor. Cats are more sensitive than dogs so it takes less to cause a toxic reaction or death. Signs of toxicity include initially drinking and urinating a lot, depression, vomiting, rapid breathing and eventually kidney failure. Make sure to keep the anti-freeze out of reach, and make sure your car isn't leaking any onto the garage floor.

Rock salt, while typically not a problem as something that is eaten, can be extremely harsh on paws. Dogs and cats that spend a lot of time outdoors may develop painful cracks on the bottom of their paws. Make sure you check for this periodically.

Many people use space heaters for their pets in the winter to heat up a dog house or a garage. A space heater has the potential to emit carbon monoxide, a toxin to both people and pets. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that has proven itself as deadly. Carbon monoxide impairs the ability of blood to release oxygen to body tissues. Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include drowsiness, incoordination and a bright red color to the gums.

People and pets alike suffer from dry skin in the winter. If you find your dog or cat scratching a lot and you can see flakes of dry skin, try bathing it with a shampoo that has some sort of oatmeal as a main ingredient. It is soothing to the skin and will provide a good source of moisture. You can also try adding a fatty acid supplement to your animal's meal. Supplements of vitamins A, D, E and K are formulated to be put in your pet's food every day and can be found in your local pet store or veterinarian's office.

Although completely unnecessary, you might try adding water to your pet's dry dog food and heating it up in the microwave. This is an excellent treat that your pet will thank you for on those bone chilling days. But a word to the wise: make sure you test the food with your finger before handing it over to your pet. It is really easy to overheat wet dog food and cause oral burns to your pet's mouth.

We all try to muddle through iced windshields in the morning, long hours of darkness and the extreme cold of winter. These tips will help both pets and humans alike get through this winter season.

If you are concerned about the potential poisoning of your pet, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 or your local veterinarian.