By Christie Long
You don’t have to be in Colorado long to hear the old adage that suggests that if you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes and it’ll change. But until it does, remember winter weather poses dog health risks.
For now, winter seems to have laid its icy grip on the Front Range for the foreseeable future, so some reminders about our best friends’ welfare during this season are in order.
Both cats and dogs are vulnerable to poisoning from antifreeze, the use of which is prevalent this time of year. Its sweet taste is typically irresistible to pets, and causes severe kidney damage without swift and aggressive treatment.
Don’t forget that antifreeze or other toxic substances may be on your dog’s paws after a walk in the slush, so wipe off paws, feet and underbelly well with a towel when you’re back home.
There are laws in Fort Collins that prohibit having your dog off leash in public areas, but it’s even more important to keep them leashed in a snowstorm, when they can easily become disoriented. A fluffy layer of snow is a great disguise for razor-sharp shards of ice that can cut paws and legs, and a dog off-leash is more prone to these injuries.
People who have had metal plates placed on bones to stabilize fractures or repairs sometimes report that the plates feel uncomfortable or downright painful in cold weather. If your dog has had orthopedic surgery and spends a considerable amount of time outside in the winter, consult your veterinarian as to whether the device should be removed once the bones are repaired.
The amount of exposure to cold a dog can withstand depends on many factors, including coat, thickness of skin, type of dog, whether the dog is accustomed to spending a lot of time outdoors in cold weather, and age, to name a few. It should go without saying that while a 90 pound Alaskan malamute romps happily across the veritable winter wonderland that is the snowy Front Range, a tiny, hairless Chinese crested may be huddled in the warm glow of your laptop, booking a trip to Cancun with your American Express card.
And remember to go easy on your little dog if it has an “accident” in the house during cold weather. Since many of them hate going outside in cold weather, they’ll often refuse to go out until it’s too late. They may need for you to “remind” them by going out with them, praising a job well-done, and maybe even shoveling a spot where they can go without being submerged in a snowbank.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.