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January 11, 2013

Paw Prints: Keep pets safe during chilly weather

We’re having a typical New England winter. It was frigid last week, and then it became almost spring-like this week. This pendulous freeze-thaw cycle confuses gardens. Does it affect our pets, too?

Pets need time to get used to temperature extremes. If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet. Exposing Fido or Fluffy gradually to colder weather can help.

Individual factors can also affect a pet’s ability to acclimate. Puppies and kittens are too young to be thrust into the cold alone. Similarly, senior pets may not be able to adjust to the freezing temperatures. Some health conditions can also make pets less able to acclimate.

Even breed and size can affect a pet’s ability to successfully winterize.

Some dogs, such as retrievers, German shepherds and huskies can grow thicker, warmer coats. Other pets have sparse haircoats that don’t respond adequately to nature’s cues. Many toy breeds, such as chihuahuas, and some large breeds, such as Doberman pinschers, fall into this category. These pets need us to help them stay warm. Doggie sweaters and coats can help protect these pets during limited outdoor time.

Prolonged outdoor time during cold weather increases your pet’s risk of hypothermia. If Fido is wet, the onset of hypothermia can progress dangerously fast.

Don’t let your dog wander onto frozen lakes, especially if temperatures have been fluctuating. Other factors also contribute to ice thickness, such as water depth and nearby currents. The ice can break and Fido may not be able to escape. If this happens, call 911. Ice must be at least four inches thick to safely hold a person. Attempting a rescue yourself may result in dire consequences for both you and your dog.

Paws, tails and ears are susceptible to frostbite. Be especially careful if your dog has cropped ears. Special hats are available that slip over your dog’s head and neck and cover his ears. On extremely cold days, these are appropriate during short walks or other brief trips outdoors.

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