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Cold Weather Brings Dangers to Animals
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- People can care for themselves, but when temperatures drop and home heaters kick into high gear, pets rely on thoughtful owners.
Indoors, pets can face dry skin problems. Outdoors, extreme temperatures can be life threatening. And on driveways and around vehicles, antifreeze poses a deadly risk.
Dr. John Tyler, internal medicine specialist at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said owners should keep their pets' safety in mind when watching the weather.
"You don't want to leave a house animal outdoors in the winter," Tyler said. "If the temperature is freezing or below, it can be life threatening to a nonacclimated animal. On windy days, less than freezing temperatures can harm indoor dogs."
Dogs who have always lived outside, are bred to be outdoors, and have adequate shelter, bedding, food and water should be fine when temperatures dip. But when severe weather arrives, it helps to bring them closer to the warmth of the house.
"Short-haired dogs living outside are at a greater risk than thick-haired dogs such as Siberian huskies, malamutes and chows," Tyler said.
In cold weather, feed dogs more to provide the energy needed to warm their bodies.
Cats typically do not suffer from cold weather. Much of this is because cats usually are free to find a warm shelter while many dogs are penned or chained to a location.
Another cold-weather danger to pets is vehicle antifreeze. This major killer has a sweet taste that attracts cats and dogs.
"If an animal gets enough exposure to antifreeze and you don't catch it within four to eight hours, the animal has very little chance it can be saved even with aggressive care," Tyler said. "The key is preventing exposure."
Antifreeze contains a deadly alcohol known as ethylene glycol. Depending on the size of the pet, as little as a teaspoon of the fluid can kill cats and dogs.
"Initial signs of poisoning are uncoordination, drunkenness, disorientation, stupor and increased thirst," Tyler said. "The kidneys shut down in about 24 hours, but after four to eight this cannot be stopped."
At least one brand of antifreeze on the market has replaced the deadly ethylene glycol with the less toxic propylene glycol. Antifreeze poisoning is not just a winter problem, and veterinarians see many cases in the fall and spring.
"Make sure you don't have a leaking radiator, and if you change your own radiator fluid, make sure you don't spill it or leave it open," Tyler said. "Be sure to dispose of it properly."
Indoor pets generally have easy winters, but on occasion have problems with dry skin, Tyler said.
"Dry skin shows up by the dog scratching or by dander," Tyler said. "If a dog has a problem with dry skin, there are products a veterinarian can prescribe."
These products, similar to those used for humans, include emollients in rinse water and humectants in sprays. Emollients such as oils or lanolin prevent the skin from losing moisture. Humectants draw moisture into the skin.
"As with humans, if dogs scratch too much they can damage the skin," Tyler said. "This breaks down the skin's normal defense barriers, and the dogs can get secondary infections."
If this happens, the dog would need to see a veterinarian who could prescribe drugs to stop the itching, antibiotics to fight infection and drugs to moisturize the skin.
To prevent problems, humidify the house and do not overbathe the dog. Tyler said dogs do not need baths to have healthy skin, and only should be bathed when they smell bad or are dirty.
Dry skin is typically only a problem with dogs living indoors and is caused by the dry heat from furnaces.