Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

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by Dr. Janice Mitchell

Okay, okay, just had to rub a little road salt in the wound. This article has actually nothing to do with music or so called politically correct ‘muzzling.’ Instead, it revolves around our temperature drops this time of year and the effects of winter on our pets. Also, to avoid the usual ‘don’t feed chocolate to your pets’ or ‘no tinsel on your Christmas tree if kitty is around,’ I thought I would venture into the uncommon topics of how winter can affect our pets.

Do pets get season affective disorder? A quick search on our veterinary information network reveals that in fact…no one knows. There were many comments of grumpier cats and frustrated dogs in the winter, however this could be attributed to less exercise and less outdoor stimulation. Personally, my own cat would lie in front of our full spectrum daylight lamp on dreary days, and I know many of us see our pets purposely basking in the path of direct sun beams. Pets worship the sun gods as much as we do.

With the decreased humidity inside our homes often caused by our heating sources, there is a higher number of flakey pets. These pets do not need Head and Shoulders shampoo. Instead, the majority need extra moisture and nutrition for their coats. This can be achieved through various means such as giving cats more canned food, adding fish oil supplements to either species’ diets, and for some, using moisturizing mousses or sprays designed specifically for pets. Some dogs in particular get dry, cracked noses and dry pads, especially if walking on salted sidewalks or roads. Beeswax based creams and vitamin E lotions are good options to use on either surfaces. Dog booties or mutt-luks are also sometimes a necessity for those dogs that walk a lot on salted pathways. These booties not only protect the footpads but are excellent at eliminating the giant snow balls that form on hairy limbs. If your dog is one who detests boot fashion, please be sure to at least rinse his/her paws immediately after a walk on these surfaces.

Cold, damp days really affect our more mature pets. For those with arthritis that venture outside, the dropped temperatures seem to aggravate joint pain. At this time of year, it may be important to start these pets on medications or supplements that help alleviate their inflammatory pain. And of course, keeping the creaky ol’ bones dry and warm goes a long way. For little dogs, it is also important to consider shovelling little paths through the snow as bounding through the snow banks to do their business places extra stress on their backs. Not only does arthritis flare up in winter, but also the presentation of many sore backs for this very reason.

Move over Gucci…it’s Poochie fashion season! This begs the question…should dogs wear clothing? I, for one, am a proponent for jackets and sweaters for certain breeds. Generally the single coated breeds, such as poodles, shih tzus and sighthounds benefit from the added warmth of a polar fleece or wool outer coat. Double coated breeds have an already built in undershirt and outer jacket. These are the breeds that generally ‘molt’ twice a year, and stake out snow banks to lie in, somewhat similar to beached seals on their ice floes.

So, since it is the season of giving, the above information may give some shopping ideas for the animals on your Santa list. And hey, while you are at it, play some good ol’ fashioned Christmas tunes, cats and dogs appreciate good music and are not as discriminatory (Jingle Cats anyone?) Until then, on behalf of our furry friends, have a Meowy Christmas and Season’s Grrrrrr-eetings.

Dr. Janice Mitchell is a veterinarian with Island Animal Hospital and Little Current Veterinary Services.