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As winter approaches, take precautions to protect pets

By Brian J. Lowney – Contributing Writer

December 4, 2011

<strong>Laparoscopic surgery becoming veterinarian tool</strong>

Winter and the already-upon-us holiday season can be fun and enjoyable for companion animals if owners plan ahead and take a few precautions.

According to Dr. Tom Burns, hospital director at Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, taking your pet for a checkup is advisable before the cold weather sets in.

"Your veterinarian can make sure they do not have any medical conditions that will make them vulnerable to the cold," Burns says, adding that it is especially important for senior cats and dogs to receive a preseason checkup.

"Ailments such as heart disease, diabetes and hormonal imbalances can disrupt an animal's ability to control body temperature," he says.

Burns emphasizes that owners should try to wipe off their dog's or cat's feet, legs and stomach when the animal comes inside after being outdoors in the snow and ice.

"Pets can ingest salt or, worse, chemicals like antifreeze from their paws," he warns.

While Burns recommends keeping pets indoors during cold weather, if the animal does go outside, it should always be accompanied by an alert owner. Unfortunately, often when there is deep snow, cats and dogs searching for a spot to go to the bathroom follow the nearest path, which may lead to the road, where the animal can be struck by a car or plow or become lost.

Heidi Greene, a certified veterinary technician at Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod, reminds owners who walk their dogs near a pond or lake to be careful because inquisitive canines can break loose and easily fall through ice. It can be difficult or sometimes impossible for these animals to escape without assistance, and sadly, some owners and rescue personnel have died trying to save a drowning dog.

"Be careful when letting your dog off-leash when it is snowy or icy, especially in snowstorms," Greene advises. "Dogs can lose their scent and become lost in snowy conditions."

Winter can be particularly stressful for feral cats as well as felines that have become separated from their owners.

"Outdoor cats sometimes sleep under car hoods for warmth, and can be injured or killed when the engine is started," Greene says. Veterinary experts urge drivers to tap on the hood before getting into a vehicle to arouse cats that might have fallen asleep after seeking shelter in the chassis.

As the holidays approach, popular author Steve Dale, a dog and cat behavior consultant and contributing editor of USA Weekend, tells owners to "be very watchful of the door," as cats and dogs can easily escape into inclement weather as visitors come and go.

"Microchip your pet and register it with the microchip provider," Dale says, adding that cats and dogs and their owners benefit from this important form of identification.

"It's a great gift for the holidays," he says.

The award-winning journalist and Chicago radio personality advises owners of shorthaired sight hounds, such as Salukis, whippets and greyhounds, and toy breeds, including Brussels griffons, pugs and Italian greyhounds, to purchase a warm winter coat or sweater to insulate their dog when the animal is taken outdoors in cool or freezing weather. Small or short-coated terriers, such as the smooth fox and Jack Russell, also need winter protection.

Dale also recommends booties for many canines that walk on snowy or icy terrain. When purchasing protective footwear, dog owners should look for booties that can be easily fitted and won't cut off circulation.

"Booties prevent ice balls from forming in footpads, and lessen the possibility of frostbite," Dale says.

But don't let cold weather stop playtime. To prevent Fido from turning into a couch potato during long cold snaps or wintry blizzards, Dale suggests playing indoor games that provide exercise and mental stimulation, such as hide and seek, or reviewing basic obedience routines.

In extreme freezing temperatures, Dale says, small canines can be trained to use a doggie litter box or an area covered with newspaper.

The author, whose new e-book, "Good Dog" (Tribune Media Services), will be released early next month, emphasizes that owners should know their pet and what outdoor temperature the animal can tolerate.

"If you must keep pets outside for an extended period of time, make sure they have a warm, solid shelter with thick bedding, as well as access to water that isn't frozen," Greene says.

Swansea resident Brian J. Lowney has been writing about pets for more than a decade. He is a past president of the Wampanoag Kennel Club, an active dog show judge and shares his home with two shelter-adopted cats. All of Brian's columns are available online in our new pet section. Visit