Clark Fork Valley Press | Mineral Independent
If it’s one thing that all of Mineral County and much of the state of Montana has in common, it’s we all love our pets.
Especially our dogs and cats, so much so that it’s like an indicator of where we’re from. With the arrival of winter these four-legged fur babies need some extra attention and consideration during the coldest time of the year.
Dr. Adam McDougall is the managing veterinarian at Missoula Vet Clinic. When it comes to dog care during the wintertime he stated, “Be smart. Each breed of dog is different as far as their ability to tolerate colder temperatures.”
Generally, longer-haired breeds like huskies, malamutes, and akitas, are more adaptable and able to manage colder temperatures than shorter-haired breeds such as dachshunds, vizslas, or pointers.
“Most dogs can tolerate temperatures around freezing, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, for short periods of time when not active. If it is cold for you with a jacket, it is too cold for your dog to be left outside for an extended period,” explained McDougall.
Dog sweaters or jackets should be utilized help keep them warm, and try to limit idle time spent outside when temperatures are below freezing. He confirmed, “Pets can suffer from frostbite just like us.”
Many local residents have what they’d consider to be outdoor dogs, pups that live in fenced-in enclosures and sleep in doghouses. In this instance McDougall suggested, “Shelters such as dog houses can help protect against the elements and bedding such as older blankets, sleeping bags, and/or straw can help insulate them from the wind and chill. If temperatures are going to be below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, your dog should not sleep outside.”
Instead, he recommended letting dogs sleep inside at night, in a garage, shed, or even a barn to help protect them from hypothermia.
“Pets are not immune to the cold,” noted McDougall. “It is so important to protect them from the elements, especially wind, and provide them with plenty of bedding and blankets.”
Some possible warning signs of hypothermia in dogs or cats include inactivity or general weakness, uncontrolled shivering, extremely cold extremities (frostbite), or unresponsiveness.”
Another precaution is watching out for dehydration, it can happen more quickly in colder months if water sources are frozen and not available throughout the day.
When grooming your pets during the winter less is more. McDougall observed, “As a general rule, haircuts should be avoided in colder months if animals are outside for extended periods – they need as much warmth as possible and leaving their natural coat on will help protect them from the elements. Always check their coats to make sure excessive matting is not occurring for long-haired breeds.”
Overall dogs and cats will need more food during cold weather because they tend to burn extra calories trying to stay warm, particularly if they are outdoors more frequently.
“Consider increasing their daily portion during colder months being careful not to overfeed. Always make sure they have access to fresh not frozen water,” McDougall advised.
For older animals, joint supplements in the winter months might alleviate discomfort from osteoarthritis which can be more prevalent in colder temperatures. In the same regard exercise can also help your pets feel better as well as their owner’s.
If cabin fever has struck and you’re desperate for some outdoor recreation with your dog be aware of their signals.
“Listen to your pet – if they are not wanting to engage in activity, if they constantly pick up their paws from the snow, if they are shivering it is probably too cold for activity,” McDougall said. “In general, the colder the temps are, the less time that should be spent outside exercising.”
Other than potty breaks and the occasional ball toss in the snow, if your pet is not actively exercising keep them inside when temperatures are below freezing.
“In general, keep walks shorter when temps are below freezing and be aware of the signs your pet is showing you. Obviously, a husky’s ability to tolerate exercise and duration outside in colder temps will differ from that of a greyhound or chihuahua,” said McDougall.
For those cat lovers, felines entail special care as well. He acknowledged, “They require the same needs as dogs: warmth, extra food during the winter months, and regular deworming if eating mice/birds. Consider letting them inside for the colder months or at least keep them in the garage, away from the elements.”
Around your home be conscientious of common wintertime maintenance that can become hazardous to pets.
McDougal explained, “If using de-icer, seek out pet-friendly versions. These are non-toxic to your pet. Some de-icers that are not pet friendly can cause harm to your pet if they ingest the contents when licking their feet. Always clean off paws when allowing them back inside if they’ve been exposed to non pet-friendly de-icer.”
One of the most lethal substances that pet owners may have laying around during the winter is anti-freeze for vehicles.
“Use extreme caution with anti-freeze,” McDougall said. “Do not leave anti-freeze around where your pet can ingest it. Most pets find anti-freeze to be palatable and will drink it if given the chance. This can lead to kidney failure and death. Instead, use pet-friendly anti-freeze and keep it away from your pets.”
At the Missoula Vet Clinic, they’ll occasionally see hypothermic pets or pets that have ingested anti-freeze. McDougall shared, “We also see chapped paw pads and frostbite when pets have been exposed to the elements for too long. Ears, tails, and feet are common areas of the body that can be affected by frostbite and being outside too long. Consider using a petroleum-based pet-friendly ointment on chapped paw pads to help prevent bigger problems.”
In many towns and communities’ stray cats and dogs are a sad and frequent occurrence. If possible, try to capture the animal and bring it to a humane society or pet shelter, they have the appropriate facilities and means to care for them.
“If that is not an option consider setting up a shelter for stray cats to keep them away from the wind and moisture,” McDougall said.
Superior resident and self-proclaimed animal lover Cathy Reich has rescued, housed, nurtured, and loved countless pets, of all shapes and sizes since moving to Montana in 1999. Along with her husband Jim she said, “We currently, we have five pets, two dogs, Bailey and Sammy; one cat, Cheddar; and two rabbits, Leonard and Luna.”
“Over the years I’ve helped get dozens of animals fixed and taken quite a number into Missoula to the shelter. I’ve found animals on Mullan Road and on I-90 and had people show up on my doorstep with animals,” Reich said. But having a big heart and such compassion for the animals has taken its toll. She expressed, “I’m getting too old to chase animals around and make telephone calls or go door to door looking for owners or possible new owners. I’ve been after dogs, cats, rabbits, and a goat. I’ve taken birds, a snake, and wild rabbits to animal rehabbers.”
Reich noticed that she’s not the only one in the area who sets food out for strays or tries to help catch them to get neutered and rehomed. She knows dozens of friends who share the same desire to help. She expressed, “As I tried rescuing starting in Massachusetts, I became increasingly aware of how many animals need help, especially in rural areas and in Montana in general. People don’t seem to care.” And she added, “With regard to bad weather, they just say that they’re animals and should be used to living outdoors. I’ve noticed many take better care of their vehicles than they do their animals. The more I learned about the sentience of animals and how they are mistreated, the more I felt I had to speak up for them.”
As Dr. McDougall affirmed, there are many ways to be a caring voice for animals he commended “If you are able, consider making a donation to your local shelter. In addition to monetary donations, most shelters need pet food and pet bedding. If you are financially able, your shelter would love to have your support, and you can feel good knowing you’re’ helping those who can’t help themselves.”
For area pet owners or those considering adopting one in the future, Reich pleaded, “My one wish, treat animals as living beings who can and do suffer and who feel emotions just as we do. They are part of your family, no matter the species, and deserve to be treated with kindness, care, and respect.”