WINTER HEALTH PROBLEMS:
Keeping Your Dog Safe When It’s Cold and Wet Outside
One of the first rules of pet first aid is this: “Your pet can’t talk.” It’s a simple reminder that you must be especially observant when dealing with medical problems in pets. Your dog can’t tell you when and where he hurts, when he feels cold or hot, when he is nauseous or simply feels sick. Pay close attention to your pet’s physical state and the little signals dogs give when they aren’t well.
Cold weather can be just as dangerous to your dog as to a child. In the enthusiasm of playing outdoors, a dog can stay out longer than he should and start to suffer the effects of hypothermia, a drop in body temperature. Pets that have gotten too cold will start to shiver in an attempt to warm up their bodies. If your dog stays out in the cold too long, he will eventually stop shivering and start acting sluggish and listless. If you aren’t paying close attention, you may not notice that your dog is in serious trouble as his body shuts down because of the cold.
Prevent cold emergencies by keeping a close eye on your pet and reacting immediately to signs of hypothermia, such as shivering or listlessness. Keep your pet well fed and hydrated in cold weather, and don’t forget that even dogs with thick coats can suffer from hypothermia, especially when they get wet. If your dog has already gotten too cold, rewarm by drying the dog’s coat and bringing him indoors near a source of gentle heat. Make sure the dog eats well and rests for several hours before being allowed outdoors again.
In cold climates in which salt is used on sidewalk and street ice, be sure to rinse your dog’s paws with warm water after your walks. Salt can be toxic to them and also dries out the sensitive pads. Towel their paws dry to avoid yeast infections. You can also use nontoxic cream or wax products that can be applied to your dog’s paws to protect them from winter ice and salt. You may consider using dog booties to prevent icing or salt infection -- if your dog will stand still long enough to have them put on.
Rain and cold weather can mean that dogs are spending a lot more time indoors. If your pet is used to being out in the yard, being locked inside can bring on restlessness and irritability. The dog’s pent-up energy can causehim to start chewing up clothing, furniture and household objects. Even a well-trained dog may ruin carpets and couches when he suffers from cabin fever. This behavior can quickly become a first-aid problem if the dog starts to chew on electrical cords, gets hold of poisonous household chemicals or chokes on small objects. The best way to keep your dog safe at home is to keep the restlessness to a minimum. Be aware of your pet’s need to exercise and get some fresh air. In some areas it can rain or snow for days, an inconvenience for us but a nightmare to dogs who are used to spending time outdoors. Be sure to take your dog outside a little more frequently, and try to play actively indoors if possible. Anything that will use up the dog’s energy will help keep your pet calmer and safer during those long hours indoors.
Dogs left alone for long periods of time can get into trouble with their curiosity and restlessness. As every dog owner knows, dogs are very inquisitive and will smell and taste nearly everything. Unfortunately, this means they are very prone to poisoning themselves with common household chemicals.
Some of these poisons are obvious, and relatively easy to keep out of reach: bleach, cleansers, detergents, motor oil. Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is especially attractive -- and dangerous -- to pets. Just a few ounces can make a large dog very sick and kill a small dog. It is so toxic to cats that just a few licks from the garage floor can cause kidney failure and death. Pets can also be sickened by eating certain houseplants, by eating garbage and even by eating chocolate (which contains caffeine and theobromine, both poisonous to dogs).
Signs of poisoning include:
- loss of coordination
- abnormal behavior
- difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness and convulsions
If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, immediately call the Animal Poison Control Center at (800) 548-2423. Be prepared to tell them what your dog has ingested and how much you think he ate. The Poison Control staff are experts and will quickly be able to tell you what to do. If you’re not sure what the dog has eaten, call a veterinarian immediately.
First Aid Courses
Every pet owner should know how to recognize and treat common emergencies. Would you know what to do if your dog choked on a tennis ball? Nearly drowned at the local park? Got hit by a car? You can learn more about pet first aid by taking a course. Courses are offered by various groups including Red Cross, or contact your veterinarian for further information.
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