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Old December 9th, 2002, 03:43 PM
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As seasons change, so do the needs of your pet.

As seasons change, so do the needs of your pet.

The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine suggests the following tips on caring for pets during cold weather and the holiday season.

Cold Weather

Though temperatures may drop, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine says pets that regularly live outdoors can handle cold weather, if they have proper shelter and access to food and water. In fact, bringing outside animals indoors may carry its own dangers. The temptation to bring animals inside periodically during cold weather may reduce their ability to use their natural devices to stay warm. Instead, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine suggests allowing an animal access to exterior buildings, typically not as warm as home interiors, as an option. Extreme cold may require adding additional shelter, such as blankets and straw in dog houses and protecting dog house openings from wind.

Pet owners should also be aware of several risks associated with allowing animals in garages. Antifreeze is of particular concern, as it can be deadly for dogs and cats that lick it from garage floors. Some environmentally safe anti-freeze options are now available. Another concern is for those who allow their cars to warm up for a period of time before exiting the garage, which can expose pets to carbon monoxide poisoning. Kerosene heaters can pose a problem for inside pets because they may be more rapidly exposed to carbon monoxide. Pets kept in garages are also more at risk for accidently being backed over as vehicles exit. Owners should be aware that pets and other animals sometimes sleep under warm car hoods and can be caught in fan belts. Thumping the hood before starting the car is advisable.

While outside animals need access to food and water year round, exceptionally cold weather may result in water bowls freezing rapidly. Pet owners should check water bowls several times daily to make certain fresh water is available to dogs and cats. Dogs that stay inside may need to wear a protective sweater when going outside during very cold weather, since they are accustomed to warmth inside. Outside dogs do not need additional apparel because of their heavier coats.

Feeding Animals Table Food

Because the digestive systems of animals are sensitive to diet, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine says introducing table food suddenly to animals who are used to pet food can cause serious problems. Some foods in very limited amounts (just a bite or two) may be acceptable. During holiday meals, the tendency to give the family dog large amounts of leftover turkey can sometimes be harmful, causing pancreatitis--a serious and often deadly condition in dogs. In addition, dogs and cats can easily choke on poultry bones. As a substitute treat, owners may provide pets with turkey-flavored canned pet food.

Chocolate is a particularly serious problem for dogs. A 20-pound dog that eats a pound of chocolate can die. Smaller dogs can be impaired from less amounts. Dogs can be easily tempted to eat chocolates within their reach, so pet owners should place bowls of these candies in an area where pets cannot reach them.

Harmful Holiday Items

The UT College of Veterinary Medicine warns that items used as holiday decorations can cause serious problems for pets. Decorative plants, such as mistletoe, can be very dangerous for animals. Ingesting the berries from holly can cause mild cardiac stimulation in animals. Poinsettia plants also cause severe irritation and blisters if animals chew the leaves. Cats can spread the irritants during their regular bathing activity, rubbing their faces with paws with poinsettia sap on them. Washing the irritated areas with warm water can relieve mild symptoms, but animals experiencing vomiting or diarrhea should be treated by a veterinarian because of the possibility of dehydration.

Tree decorations such as tinsel and icicles are not only tempting for cats to play with, but are also tempting for them to ingest. Cats ingesting tinsel or icicles may require surgery because these objects can become wrapped within the intestine.

Traveling With Your Pet

Pets frequently accompany pet owners on trips during the holidays, so the UT College of Veterinary Medicine recommends that certain considerations be made for traveling animals.
If traveling by car, make certain your pet has enough room to move around. It is best to place pets in a roomy pet carrier. If not in a carrier, animals should be confined to back seats. Never allow pets to sit in the laps of the front seat passenger or driver, as animals can be seriously injured in accidents by being crushed between the front seat passenger and the dash and may contribute to accidents if roaming around the driver. Stop every couple of hours and allow your pet to exercise or attend to other needs. Provide access to water, or place one or two ice cubes in your pet's water bowl in the vehicle. Traveling through strange surroundings may cause excessive panting in dogs, which can lead to dehydration.

If traveling by air, contact the airline well in advance to determine its specific regulations. Current health and rabies vaccination certificates are required for air travel. Consult your veterinarian to determine if your animal may require any tranquilizing medication, which should be used only when absolutely necessary. Retrieve your animal promptly upon its arrival at the airport.

Whether traveling by air or car, make sure your cat or dog is wearing a collar with your phone number, including area code. Carry appropriate certifications of vaccinations, as you may be asked by authorities to produce rabies certificates or other health certificates when crossing state lines or international borders such as Canada and Mexico.

Boarding your pet while you travel also requires some planning. Animals should be current on all vaccinations, including vaccinations for "kennel cough" to protect your animal from contracting with this infectious condition.

For questions or concerns regarding these matters, please consult your regular veterinarian.

Source: The Herald Chronicle 2002
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