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Winter weather holds many dangers for pets

By Judy Hamilton
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You might think that with their thick fur coats, cats, dogs and other domesticated animals can bear the winter weather better that most people. Not so, say animal experts."In these extreme temperatures, it is not enough for pets to be in an outside enclosure. Pets need to be inside a home or a heated garage," said Amy Keith, a veterinarian and owner of Valley West Veterinary Hospital.Keith was happy to report Tuesday afternoon that her office had not treated any pets with cold-related injuries after dangerously cold air and wind chills swept into the area in the past week.But she added that it is especially important for pet owners to keep on eye on the animal's water."You need to check it. It's something you need to monitor because water freezes. Nothing replaces the human touch," Keith said.If you regularly feed wild birds, she suggested you continue to do so and put out extra birdseed. She also said it is important to put out water regularly because it freezes and birds need to have a water source."The birds benefit from human caring too. It could mean the difference between life and death for the birds," Keith said.If your pet walks on sidewalks or driveways that are treated against ice, she said it is important to use pet-safe ice prevention materials. Keith also recommends booties that are sold at area pet stores because salt can get between your pet's toes and cause distress and injury.Regarding sweaters, she said, "It's not a bad idea to put a sweater on your dog. They're cute." She cautioned, though, that garments could be dangerous on a cat who might climb trees or crawl into tight spaces. Keith had similar advice for owners of large animals such as such as horses and cattle regarding the importance of shelter and drinking water.Keith said the Valley West website,, and Facebook page have additional helpful information for pet owners, including these cold-weather tips from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: 
  • Keep your cat inside. Outdoors, felines can freeze or get lost.
  • During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.
  • Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm. Dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
  • Thoroughly wipe off your dog's legs and stomach when he comes in from sleet, snow or ice. He could ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws, and his paw pads also could bleed from snow or encrusted ice.
  • Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in the colder months, be sure to dry him completely before taking him out for a walk. Own a shorthaired breed? Consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck that covers the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
  • Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
  • Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train him indoors. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.
  • Vehicle coolant and antifreeze are lethal poisons for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
  •  Reach Judy E. Hamilton at or 304-348-1230.
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