Vail Pet Talk column: Keep your pet safe from winter hazards | VailDaily.com

Vail Pet Talk column: Keep your pet safe from winter hazards

Winter is officially here in the Vail Valley, and as the snow begins to fall, all of us are anxious to get outside with our pets and enjoy our winter surroundings.

Unfortunately, with winter comes cold weather, chilly rain and sleet, all which can cause chapped or even lacerated paws or flaking skin, as well as other unforeseen hazards to our pets. Our joyful winter walk can quickly turn into an emergency visit to the veterinarian, as our pets can be exposed to the dangers of the cold.

There are many cold weather dangers to be aware of for your pets.

First of all, cold is hazardous to pets, resulting in hypothermia, disorientation and death. As soon as the outdoor temperature drops below 20 degrees, your pets should be brought indoors. Young pets such as puppies and kittens, as well as short-haired pets, especially, should not be left outside for any extended period of time, should the temperature drop below 40 degrees, and should be provided with protective gear, as well as boots should you plan on staying out despite the temperatures.

Be aware that pets that are not properly groomed, like long-haired pets that are heavily matted, cannot properly keep themselves warm, either, so proper and regular grooming is imperative in keeping your pet safe this winter.

In addition, pets with underlying medical conditions, as well as geriatric pets, are more susceptible to the cold, and oftentimes the cold can exacerbate underlying disease processes. Please be advised that putting your pet in a cold car is not protecting it from the cold, as a cold car can become a refrigerator for your pet, again resulting in a potentially deadly outcome.

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Secondly, chemicals utilized during the winter months can also prove to be hazardous to your pets. For example, antifreeze, also referred to as ethylene glycol, is highly toxic to your pets and can cause renal failure in pets leading to death. Too often, people are quick to leave antifreeze in the garage, where there is easy access for pets to get to it, and its sweet taste can result in quick ingestion.

In addition, certain brands of snow melt can become attached to your pet's paws and, upon licking, also cause skin and mouth irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting and toxicity if consumed at a high enough level. Be safe and leave your antifreeze out of reach of your pets in a safe place, and gently clean your pet's paws off immediately after any exposure to ice melt to assure no further problems arise.

Thirdly, there are many indoor winter hazards for pets, as well. Space heaters, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces can cause severe burns. Younger pets such as puppies and kittens can easily knock objects over and directly into these heat sources, resulting in house fires. Thus, puppy and kitten proofing areas around these heat sources is critical. In addition, burning candles can easily be an attraction for young pets, which can quickly result in their fur catching fire. Again, protect your pets by keeping these heat sources at a safe distance.

Fourth, many folks love to ski and snowboard with their pets during these great winter days. Unfortunately, a very common hazard we come upon is lacerated tendons and pads from the pet running in front of the skier or boarder, and it quickly becomes an emergency for your pet, as they are unable to avoid that ski or board going over the top of them. Be safe when you ski or board. Travel at slower speeds, and be sure your pet is at a safe distance at all times.

Finally, consider keeping your pets on a leash during the winter months. Too often we hear of lost pets that are never found because they have wandered off in the cold temperatures or even fallen into a lake or pond and were unable to get out safely. Most importantly, be smart and be safe. Enjoy the winter with your pet.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center, submitted this column. You can reach her at 970-328-7085.