Harsh winter weather can have serious impacts on the health of our beloved canine companions, and so far, 2015 has kicked off with some headline-making winter storms. From January's Winter Storm Juno to weekly snowstorms pummeling the Northeast, by mid-February, news reports claimed that, in just two weeks' time, snowplows in Boston had removed enough snow to fill 90 football stadiums.
It is important to keep in mind how the winter weather can be dangerous for our four-legged friends. Here are three of the biggest winter health hazards for pets:
1. Hypothermia Hits Pets, Too: Just like people, pets are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. To prevent the latter, the first thing to consider is your dog's breed. Some dogs are made for winter, like Huskies and Bernese Mountain Dogs who have thick coats, whereas smaller dogs cannot withstand the cold for as long or as well.
Beyond breed, consider your dog's age. Puppies and senior dogs are just like young children and the elderly; they have weaker immune systems and are more susceptible to the cold. Familiarize yourself with the signs of frostbite and hypothermia and monitor your dog closely after exposure to low temperatures. The first signs could be paleness and shivering, followed by lethargy. If you notice any of these signs, your pet might need urgent medical attention.
2. Sidewalk Salt is Not Dog's Best Friend -- Salt is used to melt winter ice on roads and sidewalks, but this seemingly benign practice can hold hidden danger for pets. Salt can get in their paws and burn, and if it gets into the fur and they lick it, it's even worse. A small amount of ingested salt can irritate a dog's mouth or stomach, while a larger amount can cause serious sickness.
Protect your pet's paws by giving them booties. You can invest in sturdy ones that will last for years, or buy latex disposable ones that are good for just a few uses. Be sure to also wash your pet with warm water when you get back indoors to ensure no salt remains on his or her paws or coat.
3. A Little Leak Can Be a Big Driveway Danger -- While antifreeze is essential for protecting your vehicle in winter, the coolant used in engines is poisonous to pets. Antifreeze often ends up leaking in driveways, and even a small amount can be devastating to your pet if ingested. Sadly, it only takes a few tablespoons of antifreeze to put a dog's life at risk.
Be vigilant in checking for antifreeze leaks on your driveway, and do not allow your pet to walk unattended on roads, driveways or anywhere antifreeze might leak. If you think your pet has been exposed to antifreeze and you notice sluggish, disoriented behavior, call your veterinarian immediately. It is essential to act quickly, as the longer a pet goes without treatment, the greater the risk.
The Winter Solution
Winter weather's hidden hazards for pets mean pet parents must be extra vigilant to ensure their dog's winter wellness.
The good news? It's easy to avoid outdoor dangers by keeping your dog active and happy indoors.
Provide puzzles, toys and games to keep your pet stimulated while you wait out the weather from the comfort of your home.
Another great option is to visit "doggie day care" centers and other indoor pet play places, where you can stop in for an hour and play indoors.
By being aware of winter's hidden outdoor hazards and providing fun indoor activities, your pet will be healthy and happy throughout the winter of 2015 and beyond.