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Winter and Holiday Health Hazards for Animals

Take Precautions to Protect Pets and Animals from Frigid Temperatures Says The Humane Society of the United States

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is urging pet owners to take a few common sense precautions to safe guard their pets against bitter cold temperatures. Winter weather temperatures falling below 32° can pose a serious risk to family pets, homeless animals, and trapped wildlife. Extremely cold weather can be particularly hazardous for pets. We also ask our residents who trap stray and wild animals to stop trapping on days when the temperature is below freezing. Despite their “fur” coats, domesticated animals like cats and dogs depend on humans for protection from elements such as freezing temperatures. The HSUS is offering the following suggestions to help keep all pets safe through the cold winter months.

    • Don’t leave pets outdoors when the temperature drops below freezing. Dogs need outdoor exercise but take care not to keep them out for lengthy periods during very cold weather. Short-coated dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater during walks. Dogs and cats are safer indoors in all sorts of weather. Animals should never be left outdoors unattended as they risk being stolen or otherwise being harmed.
    • Signs of hypothermia include: weak pulse, dilated pupils, decreased heart rate, extreme shivering, pale or blue mucous membranes, body temperature below 95 degrees, stupor and unconsciousness. Consequences of extreme hypothermia may include neurological problems including coma, heart problems and kidney failure. Check with your veterinarian for more information.
    • Wind-chill can threaten a pet’s life, no matter what the temperature. Outdoor dogs must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with loose, insulating material such as straw or shredded newspaper. Material should be changed regularly to ensure it stays dry. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with a flap of heavy waterproof fabric or heavy plastic.
    • Pets spending a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter. Keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet’s water dish to make certain the water is fresh and not frozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet’s tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
    • Warm car engines are dangerous for cats and small wildlife. Parked cars attract small animals who may crawl up under the hood looking for warmth. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
    • De-icing chemicals are hazardous. The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet’s feet. Wipe the feet with a damp towel every time after coming in from outdoors – even if you don’t see salt on walkways.
    • More info from the HSUS
    • Learn more at the ASPCA website  

With the arrival of the winter months and holiday season there are additional health hazards which are of concern for animals. A few of these health risks could be brought into the home inadvertently thereby increasing your pets’ possibility to exposure. The following are some important tips to help you and your pet enjoy the season:

Antifreeze

This mixture contains ethylene glycol, a product that can cause lethal kidney failure if ingested. Antifreeze has a sweet taste that attracts animals and can be toxic in small doses. An antidote is available but early recognition of ingestion and immediate treatment by a veterinarian is imperative for the survival of your pet. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife, or people.  

Baking Chocolate

This form of chocolate contains a higher concentration of the stimulant theobromine than regular chocolate. Because dogs and cats lack the enzyme needed to break down this ingredient, just one ounce of baking chocolate can be fatal to a small dog or cat.

Mistletoe

The berry of this plant is the most toxic component, especially if chewed instead of swallowed whole. If ingested in sufficient quantities, it can cause gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms.

Poinsettia

Whether or not this plant is toxic has been debated for years. The most recent findings are that it contains no toxic chemical. However, as with any item that your pet is not accustomed to eating, it can cause diarrhea and vomiting. Animals tend to be attracted to poinsettias, so it is a good practice to keep this plant out of your pets’ reach.

Christmas cactus

This plant is nontoxic but can cause your pet to have diarrhea and vomiting if consumed.

Tinsel

Your pet may be particularly attracted to playing with tinsel or other string-type decorations. If ingested, it can cause intestinal blockage. If your pet remains indoors it would be prudent to avoid using tinsel or other string-type decorations. It is also advisable to place breakable ornaments at the top of your Christmas tree or invest in shatterproof ornaments.

Glow Jewelry

The chemical contained in glow-in-the-dark jewelry may have the potential to cause death as a result of respiratory distress. Animals that have bitten into the jewelry may exhibit heavy salivation, hyperactivity and aggressive behavior.

Cold Weather

Animals in Texas are not acclimated to cold weather and should be provided with adequate protection and shelter from the direct effect of wind, rain, or snow. Learn more at the ASPCA website 

If you know or suspect that your pet has ingested any of the above items, immediately consult a veterinarian, animal emergency clinic, or poison control center. The ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at 1-888-426-4435. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is a unique, emergency hotline providing 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week telephone assistance to veterinarians and animal owners. The Center’s hotline veterinarians can quickly answer questions about toxic substances found in our everyday surroundings that can be dangerous to animals. There is a $65 consultation fee paid by the animal owner, veterinarian or product manufacturer.