Louisiana winters can be cold, wet and miserable for pets, as well as their owners.
Dr. Lynn Buzhardt, of The Animal Center in Zachary, offered some tips to protect pets during the cold winter months.
“Walking is still a must. Dogs need to go to the bathroom regardless of the weather, so owners have two options when it comes to latrine duty,” Buzhardt said.
For small or elderly dogs, owners may resort to placing absorbent pads on the floor next to the door, which can work well if a dog is trained to use them. However, if you choose to use the pads, Buzhardt said to make certain your dog is using them and to monitor eliminations.
“Otherwise, you may end up with a mess, or worse, your pet could develop urinary or gastrointestinal problems,” she said.
Delayed bowel movements can result in constipation or diarrhea from stress-induced colitis, and retention of urine for long periods can lead to bladder infections.
For outdoor dogs and cats, both The Animal Center and the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine advise the following: don’t leave pets outdoors when temperatures drop; outdoor pets use more energy to keep warm, so they’ll need more food when it’s cold; routinely check your pet’s water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen; and if your pet stays outside, provide a house with a raised floor that is large enough to allow the dog or cat to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold in body heat.
Buzhardt said covering the floor of a doghouse or kennel with a blanket, but only if the animal will not eat it, or straw or wood shavings will help protect your animal from the cold. Also, making sure houses or kennels are facing away from the wind can help provide added warmth.
For those who feed homeless cats, be sure to provide an insulated shelter for them, as well. Beds for felines or doghouses can be placed inside sheds, garages or workshops to protect against freezing temperatures.
“Consider placing an electric heater on a table where your dog can’t reach it, making sure electrical cords are not dangling,” Buzhardt said. “Chewing electrical cords is very dangerous.”
The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine said in a recent news release that staying warm burns lots of calories, so feeding your dog or cat a little extra, especially if he or she is living outdoors during the winter, is best.
Buzhardt agreed, and said giving two small meals per day instead of one large feast is best.
“Exercise is still important, even though some days are not fit for the animal or its owner. Monitoring the weather forecast, planning short walks during the warmest time of the day and warming your dog after a walk with a good rubdown using a warm, dry towel can be helpful,” Buzhardt said. “Start off slowly, increase the intensity of the workout, then allow for a cool-down period. Both you and your pet still need to cool down when it’s freezing outside.”
If it’s really cold, Buzhardt said, try putting a sweater on your pet.
“If it’s really, really cold, consider putting boots on paws to protect from frostbite,” the Zachary veterinarian said. “If you accompany your dog on his or her potty breaks, dress warmly and carry an umbrella to protect you both from winter precipitation.”
Frostbite isn’t usually a problem in south Louisiana, but pet owners should probably still be aware of the prospect.
When exposed to freezing temperatures, the body attempts to preserve circulation to vital organs such as kidneys, liver, brain, heart and lungs and maintains core body temperature by reducing blood circulation to extremities. This leaves feet, ears and tails vulnerable to frostbite.
“Common sense is the best defense against frostbite, and the basic rule is this: If it’s too cold for you to stay outdoors, then it’s too cold for your pet, as well,” Buzhardt said.
LSU said warm engines in parked cars can attract cats and small wildlife, which may crawl under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
Antifreeze has a sweet taste that can attract animals but is toxic. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze and other household chemicals out of reach. Pets exposed to temperatures in the low teens or single digits for prolonged periods can get frostbite on their feet or the tips of their ears and the skin will turn darker in color.
Another symptom to be watchful for is lethargy or weakness. If you feel your pet has been adversely affected by the cold and requires medical care, contact your local veterinarian.
The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine offered these precautions to protect horses from harsh winter weather: ensure horses have water, hay and shelter 24 hours a day, seven days a week; allow them to move around, which generates heat; and if they are very old, very young, sick or too skinny and unable to thermoregulate, horses may need to be stalled and/or blanketed, along with the other precautions listed above.
“Being confined during the winter can be a bit boring for you and your pet, so schedule a little play time to ward off boredom and provide physical exercise,” Buzhardt said, suggesting to buy a new toy that will hold your pet’s interest for a while. “Louisiana weather may not be the coldest in the nation, but our state’s wet winters can be miserable. With a little planning, you and your pet will survive until spring.”