Winter months can bring so much enjoyment, but for pets, they can often bring unwanted problems.  Most people these days keep their pets indoors but many neighbors do otherwise.  Helping protect them is also our duty as responsible pet caretakers.  Here are a few things we need to be careful with during the winter season.

  1. Fan belt injuries.  My neighbor has three cats that live outdoors and roam around the neighborhood.  I often see their tracks in the snow on my driveway.  Outside cats are always looking for places to get warm, both at night and during the day.  The car engine will often provide them with that opportunity.  As a vet, I saw many cats that either died or were seriously injured by the engine’s fan belt when an unknowing neighbor started their car.  Make it a point to bang on the hood of the car before starting it.  That will scare any cats hiding in the engine and prevent serious injury or death.
  2. Antifreeze poisoning.  Another common occurrence that we vets see during winter is antifreeze poisoning.  People are always topping off their antifreeze or windshield washing solution (which contains antifreeze) during winter months and often they will spill some on the driveway.  Cats and dogs love the taste of antifreeze and will drink it before they drink water.  This chemical is very toxic and will destroy the pet’s kidneys.  Symptoms of a pet that has been poisoned with antifreeze is seizures or convulsions.  If you spill some, clean it up immediately to avoid this terrible toxicity.  There are pet-safe antifreeze products that are manufactured and available.
  3. De-icing sand exposure.  Many people use de-icing products to put on the driveway and sidewalks to melt the snow and ice to avoid people slipping and falling.  Unfortunately, these products have chemicals in them that are very caustic to pets who walk on them.  They will often cause burning and erosions of the pet’s paws.  Pets will also lick their irritated paws and consume the chemicals and cause local burns and erosions in the mouth.  There are pet-safe products available that will avoid these exposures.  If your pet does get exposed, simply wash off the paw pads and apply some coconut oil to the pads.
  4. Water.  Many outside pets do not have access to water.  One would think that if someone had an outside pet that they would provide water in a bowl that has a heating element.  This is not usually the case.  Most pets that are outside don’t drink enough water in the winter and any deprivation of water will often make them clinically dehydrated, putting unwanted stress on the kidneys.  I will often check the neighbors water bowl to make sure that her cats have fresh water.  If not, it is time to have a talk with the neighbor.
  5. Injuries from falling on the ice.  When I was in a regular practice, we knew that after the first freeze, we would be seeing a lot of dogs with musculoskeletal injuries.  We had more ruptured cranial cruciate injuries due to dogs running and slipping on the ice after the first snow storm than any other time of the year.  It is a lot less expensive to buy some anti-slip booties than paying thousands of dollars for surgery.  
  6. Falling through the ice.  We see videos every winter of people breaking through the ice to rescue a dog that has fallen through the ice on a pond.  We had a lovely lady drown in our local park a few years ago because her dog fell through the ice and she drowned while trying to save him.  I cannot imagine what our mind goes through in a situation like this, but I know that my job as a responsible pet caretaker is not to allow my dogs to go out onto the ice.  If there is a pond where I walk in winter, my dogs are on a leash.
  7. Dryness.  Inside pets also have potential problems associated with winter months.  It is common for people to leave their heaters on most of the time or use wood stoves for heat.  This will remove most of the moisture in the air and create a very dry environment.  Dryness will cause irritation to the delicate mucous membranes of the nose, eyes and lungs.  I see many pets during winter for sneezing and coughing due to dryness in the home.  Simply placing a humidifier in the room will usually resolve the problem.  Cats are particularly sensitive to wood smoke and a wise pet caretaker will be cognizant of that and will remove the cat from the room while having a fire in the fireplace or wood stove.
  8. The Christmas tree.  Cats and Christmas trees don’t do well together.  I have seen so many cats brought into the hospital with injuries from the Christmas tree.  Whether it was due to chewing on the electrical cords or ingesting  tinsel from the tree, many of these scenarios can be fatal for a cat.  I once had a cat that had swallowed some ribbon.  When I examined the cat’s mouth, the ribbon was wrapped around her tongue and went down into the esophagus.  When I went to take its temperature, the ribbon was coming out its anus.  The ribbon went through the entire gastrointestinal system and created serious damage to the gut.  Fortunately, an extensive surgical repair of the gut and removal of the ribbon, allowed the cat to fully recover, but it could have easily died.  Make sure that your Christmas tree is pet friendly.  A little prevention could save your pet’s life.