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Pet Health

Winter Care and Tips

Val Cairney January 8, 2021 120

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Hello and Happy New Year. Welcome to this first episode of 2021.  Today we’ll take a look and winter care, and I’ll also give you some tips.

What a year 2020 has been and although the challenges have been very real, one of the great positives have been the consistent following of Val Talk’s Pets, from all over the world.  So before I launch into the topic for this episode, I really do invite my listeners to visit the website and put forth topics that you would like to hear about or have some insight into that I can share with our community of listeners.  So, thanks so much for your support of Val Talk’s Pets.  

In my last episode I shared with you the story of my dog Tundra and I hope you enjoyed hearing about his amazing journey.  One of the things Tundra loves so much is snow!  Yes, that means for many of us, we are now into winter and for me in my area, we have had quite a bit of snow so far but the temperature has not gone into the deep freeze just yet.  But, we know it’s coming.  So, if you are like me and live where winter takes hold in the form of snow and cold I thought after watching Tundra snow surf, it might be a good idea to go over some of the considerations for pets during winter specifically.  

Let’s start with cats.  Many cats are indoor cats, so venturing outdoors during winter or summer for that matter is just not part of their day.  Some cats, like mine really enjoy going out in summer, spring and fall, but when it turns cold they turn their noses up to a jaunt outside.  Now, having said that, Rory the handful does on occasion venture out for what all amounts to about 5 minutes.  I think when it is a very sunny day, he gets confused and thinks it is warm.  Once he hits that blast of cold air in his face and his paws hit that snow, he changes his mind pretty quickly.  Esme, just doesn’t do winter.  So, if you have a cat that likes to get a bit of fresh air during the winter, remember to keep the time outside short and if it is very cold and an advisory is in place, I would say that means there is no trips outside no matter how short.  When I got Esme from the horse farm where she showed up, the tips of ears were blackened.  That is a sure sign that frostbite had taken hold and lucky for her she found refuge in a warm hay room in the barn.  But, she could have very easily lost the tips of her ears if she hadn’t.   So speaking of barn cats, many barn cats are left to seek out shelter in the barn and keep themselves warm the best way they can.  Cats will curl up in hay or rafters trying to get where heat rises.  It’s important to make sure that all farm equipment is inspected before starting just in case a barn cat has curled up in the engine.  Now, many barn owners do make quite an effort to keep their barn cats comfortable.  I’ve seen great cubbys set up with blankets and some make actual houses with lots of warm blankets inside as well.  There are also heated cat houses that can be purchases that plug in and keep a nice steady temperature for kitty’s comfort.  There are also, heated mats that can be plugged in and set under a blanket to again, keep kitty warm.  

Unfortunately for our feral cat friends winter is extremely hard.  Feral cats are outside fending for themselves in any way they can. Many feral cats succumb to winter by freezing to death and or starving.  If you leave your vehicle outside it is important to always bang on the hood to make sure a cat has not crawled up inside the engine to find warmth.  Many feral cat rescue organizations make little shelters out of rubber bins that are insulated and placed in feral cat colonies to help these poor things make it through winter.  There are many feral cats that lose the tips of their ears and have damaged paws.  If you see a stray cat hanging around maybe you could think about taking him or her in, or catching it and taking it to a shelter, or provide a protective shelter on your property out of the elements.  

Now for our smaller friends, rabbits.  As I have discussed before, domestic rabbits and wild rabbits are not the same.  While wild rabbits are prepared and used to winter, domestic rabbits are not.  If you insist on having your pet rabbit stay outside during winter, this can be very tricky.  Personally, I have no idea why anyone would keep a pet rabbit outside during the winter.  To me that’s not a “pet” rabbit.  Domestic rabbits are quite sensitive to temperature and dampness so an outside bunny would need a heated hutch that is away from drafts and weather conditions.  But, I think the best thing is, if you keep a domestic rabbit outside during winter, then it really isn’t a pet, so maybe rehome him or her to someone who will love and care for it in the house as a member of the family.  

So let’s talk about dogs now.  There are several dog breeds that are just made for winter.  Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Great Pyrenees, St. Bernards just to name a few.  Many owners of these type of dogs, lament that they just can’t get their dogs inside.  They love lying in the snow!  And this is quite true.  So, if you have a winter loving dog, there is no issue letting him enjoy the outdoors, but it is best to keep an eye out, frequently checking to make sure he hasn’t changed his mind.  If the weather starts to become damp or freezing rain is happening, I would make the dog come in.  That dampness can really set in causing chills and we don’t want that.  Although Tundra loves to surf through the snow, there have been days in winter’s past where the temperature has dropped to minus 20 Celsius and even further below.  We let Tundra out on a 10 to 15 minute limit on these days.  His nose is still exposed as are his paws, so erring on the side of caution in this respect is important, I feel.  So, I guess the bottom line on winter dogs is, be cautious, be diligent.  Just because they love being outside does not mean they should be left unattended.  Their safety and well-being is still our responsibility.  

One thing I have found over the years when it comes to cooler and cold temperatures, is the rise in demand for sweaters and coats for dogs.  Now this makes total sense but it seems people are more accepting of little dogs wearing sweaters and coats as opposed to large dogs.  Well large dogs that do not have fur get just as cold as small dogs.  A Doberman or Boxer for example have hair that is quite thin so the cold will really get to them.  The problem is that many manufacturers do not make coats and sweaters big enough for these dogs.  I have found that equestrian apparel manufacturers are a good source for dog blankets that really do fit a large dog.  So, no it is not unreasonable to have a large dog wear some winter protection.  When deciding on a sweater for example, you have to keep in mind that most sweaters have you push the garment over the dog’s head.  If your dog is going to seriously dislike this, then you may have an issue.  The other thing to look for is to make sure that the underside of the sweater allows boy dogs to pee without wetting all over their sweater.  Some sweaters are designed to hug around the back end of the dog, but these sometimes ride up.  We find that many people show up saying they want to buy a sweater for their dog, but when we ask what does the dog measure around the chest and what is their length from neck to tail, we get a blank look and the person says, I never measured and oh, he weighs 30lb.  I’ve said this before, the weight means nothing.  A lab can weigh the same as a bulldog, so obviously the body confirmation is not the same.  So, remember to measure first if the dog is not coming with you for a fitting.  And that is the best way to get apparel for your dog, take him with you to the shop and try on different styles and sizes.  There is no point just guessing.  When it comes to coats, I know there are so many adorable and cut coats for dogs, but you do have to remember it needs to be functional.  The coat should fit well, cover the areas it needs to and provide movement for the dog.  It should be easy to get on and off and do its job, keep your dog warm and dry.  Some coats have zippers up the back so that can be easier than trying to Velcro straps under their belly.  Also, leg length is an issue.  We find that some people are trying to find a coat that will keep snow balls from forming on the dog’s legs.  Now, it this is really an issue, there are dog snow suits.  These snow suits cover the dog’s entire legs and their bellies.  The garment straps over their back to stay in place.  This style will help with the snow accumulation on fur but it will leave their back exposed to the elements.  It just depends on what is the function of the apparel.  And although hoods are cute, we find that most dogs don’t really like the hood on their jackets and owners end up not using them.  So bottom line on sweaters and coats is that they are for all size of dog.  Think realistically when buying a sweater or coat.  What is its function? Is it for warmth, warmth and to keep the dog dry, to keep snow from accumulating on their fur?  All of the above are considerations.  Remember, you need to measure or take your dog with you to the shop and keep in mind the function.  Yes, they can look so cute in a jacket, but if it doesn’t do the job intended it was a waste of money.  

Now another piece of apparel that can be considered is boots.  Just as an aside, I can’t tell you how many people call or come in asking if we have booties for dogs.  They are not booties, they are boots, foot apparel, and they are one of the most returned item.  For every 4 pairs sold 2 to 3 will return.  So, I’ll tell you why.  There are many styles of boots for dogs.  But, just about all of them are so difficult to get on the experience becomes a major frustration and then the dog does everything in his power to flip them off.  So, many people just give up.  The first thing to consider is why are you putting boots on your dog?  Most people think about getting boots because as they are walking in the winter, they do not get very far before the dog is lifting his paw and limping.  The cold has got to their paws to the point where it is uncomfortable so obviously the owner is looking for a way to help with this.  Some people walk their dogs on the streets in town and the salt that has be copiously put on the sidewalk really hurts their dog’s paws and again, they want to find a way to deal with this.  So, what can you do when you are trying to introduce boot wearing to you dog?  First things first, measure.  Place your dog’s paw on a piece of paper with his weight on the paper.  Draw around the paw.  This will give the size of the paw to the associate at the store, so they can find the best size for your dog.  Or, take your dog with you to the shop.  If you are going to make a trip to try on boots, try to go straight from the car to the shop.  We have had people go on a major walk through snow and dirt and who knows what else and then they come in with a soaking wet, filthy dog wanting to try on boots.  Well, that’s not quite fair to the person trying to help nor is it appropriate considering the boots are not yours until they are paid for and making a mess of a pair that you are not purchasing is just not acceptable.  So, bring a towel, or ask the associate at the store if they have a paw towel you can use?  We definitely keep towels on hand just for this scenario.  The next thing we want to know is the function of the boot.  Is it for warmth only, to keep the salt out, are you going for hikes in deep snow?  All of these questions lead us to a certain type of boot you may need.  Some boots have a high cuff that will go up the dog’s leg.  These can be great for deep snow but are fussy to get on if your dog is wiggly.  Some boots have a suede sole to them which can be fine to keep the paw warm, but if you are going to be using them when it is raining the suede can become wet and then defeat the purpose.  If you are looking just to keep the salt out of the paw, there are great boots that are like little balloons that will do just that.  They are not for warmth, but they will keep the paw dry and the salt out of the paw.  Now, if you are a serious hiker or walker there are some serious tracker boots that have a good rubber tread and special fasteners to keep the boots on.  Tundra has these boots.  They have never come off and he wears them without any hassle.  We find ourselves sometimes in deep snow and sometimes some iffy water during the spring, so to keep any bacteria out of his paws he wears these boots until things dry up.  We often have to travel over salted road surfaces and frozen gravel to get where we want to go, so I don’t want him cutting his paws.  Of course he looks super cool in his boots as they kind of look like doggy hikers! These type of boots are great but be prepared they can be very expensive.  So, boots are a tough call.  One thing we definitely recommend if you want to give it a try is to always put all four boots on your dog when trying them.  Your dog will have no choice but to walk and although he may look hilarious for a few steps, they usually hit their strides.  But, if there is just no way you dog will walk, try the balloon boots for a bit to get them used to having something on their feet and then graduate to a more substantial boot.  The balloon boots are easier to get on and most dogs adapt to them quite quickly.  

Another type of paw protection that some people like are the paste type of protection where you rub a product on to the bottom of your dog’s paw that will harden and create a barrier on the paw.  Most are usually soy based with some petroleum jelly mixed and are of course non-toxic.  

And last but not least, don’t forget those noses.  Many dogs get a very dry and cracked nose in the winter.  If this is happening there are some good snout ointments that you can purchase that will help keep their nose supple.  

So, winter is not only challenging for us humans it is for our fur friends as well.  Some cats are fortunate to have loving warm homes, but many do not.  So, think about providing shelter if you have a lonely kitty calling at your house.  Remember to keep outside trips short for your cats that do go out and never leave them out when you are not home. Small animal friends really shouldn’t be left outside during winter so make a responsible choice on this one.  Dogs of all sizes can be affected by the weather so there is nothing wrong with getting appropriate apparel.  Boots (not booties) are a tough one.  Your chances of your dog flipping all four off before you even make it to the street is probably higher than your dog stepping out looking stylish in new footwear.  Just saying!  And don’t forget to dry paws when your dog comes in and keep an eye on ears and noses for any indication that the weather is taking its toll.  Any for our winter loving dogs, yes, let them enjoy their season, but keep a vigilant eye out and know when enough is enough. 

Pet Peeves

So that brings me to my pet peeves section.

Well I’m actually not going to peeve about something as opposed to giving an update to one of my biggest pet peeves.  As you know, this rise in puppy mills is driving me crazy and I went over the exposure of eastern European mills in my episode on puppy mills and the rise of puppy purchases.  Well I’ve got a story!  A woman bought a whole bunch of things and came in to return them all.  She said, they were getting a new puppy but it didn’t work out.  I asked her what happened.  Well she said they found a registered Canadian Kennel Club French Bulldog breeder and bought a puppy.  She said there were a few inconsistencies in the process but she shoo’d away the feeling.  They brought the pup home and it had the worst case of bloody diarrhea.    They spoke to the vet and it was concluded that the dog more than likely had giardia, a very bad parasite.  Anyway, I’ll be letting this person tell her story more specifically in a later episode, so to make a long story short, she returned the dog after finding it was from a puppy mill in Hungary.  She said she did not want to be a part of this and she contacted the consumer show Marketplace that I spoke about in the puppy mill episode and she contacted the CKC.  The CKC said they had been methodically excommunicating breeders that had got registration through untruths and were in fact brokers from puppy mills.  They said the breeder that this woman purchased from either had not been discovered yet as a fraud or was a new entry.  Either way, the CKC was counting on people reporting these fraudsters to tip them to do further investigation.  This just goes to show you how insidious this puppy mill travesty is.  Well, this woman stood up to this charlatan and of course once she was exposed, she started running off her mouth at this woman showing her true colours.  But, the bottom line is everyone, its beginning.  I said we could do this and look it has started!  This woman is now officially a puppy hero.  And I am hoping and have confidence that more puppy heroes are going to start coming forward.  Maybe it will be you!  Or you! Stand up to these retched low life’s and become a puppy hero.  I was so blown away by this woman’s story and I can’t wait to have everyone hear it from her.  So stayed tuned.  It’s happening and it’s all because as I say, knowing is caring!  

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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