The weather outside is frightful, especially for man's best friend. For pet owners, however, colder temperatures don't have to be a danger to their dog or cat. With some simple steps from local pet experts, winter time can turn from a cat's curse to a doggy's delight.
"It's kind of flaky, but just like winterizing your car, you need to winterize your pet too," said Dr. Jerry Risser, owner of the Fall Creek Veterinary Medical Center in McCordsville.
As temperatures drop, the shift from humid, outdoor conditions to drier indoors can present a number of conditions for both dogs and cats, Risser said.
"The biggest issue we see in older pets is arthritic pain during the colder months," Risser said. "We can also see that dog's and cat's skin dry out due to the dryer heat from being indoors."
Risser also pointed out that pet dust mite allergies are higher in the winter time since their coats are thicker and produce more dander, which is food for mites.
Thankfully, these ailments are easily treated. For chapped skin and paws, Bag Balm and other pet-friendly ointments offer simple application and quick relief.
Risser said he also recommends supplements to help combat stiff joints and arthritis. "Glucosamine helps lubricate the joints and has the benefit of being very safe for dogs," he said. "Omega-3 fatty acids taken orally act as an anti-inflammatory and moisturize the coat. However, over-the-counter medicine should never be given to pets as some can be fatal."
Staying active and fit also plays a big part in pets' health during the winter, said Heather Pierson, the owner of Pierson Bark Park in Fishers. "Pets need to stay in shape and social all year, especially if you have a puppy," she said. "You don't want to keep them inside all winter, away from other dogs."
"Ideally, the dogs need to be out every day for at least 30 minutes in the winter," Pierson said. "A couple times a week is even better than none. Dogs love the cold and snow, running around and tackling each other. They take advantage of the weather, so give them what they love! It's truly an enjoyable experience just watching the dogs play."
Risser added that pet owners need to use common sense when it comes to exposing man's best friend to the elements.
"There are some breeds, such as Labrador retriever or husky, that can handle the cold, whereas a tea cup poodle may have a bit of a problem," Risser said. Sweaters are an easy, great solution for this. It's very much a common sense thing; if they're outside looking miserable, you might want to get them some boots or a sweater."
When it comes to indoor versus outdoor pets, however, winter presents a number of hazards. While most dogs and cats can handle the cold weather, they have to have shelter from the winter winds and a reliable source of water.
"If you have an outdoor dog, make sure they have fresh water that isn't frozen," Pierson said. "For dog houses, consider an igloo-shaped house that can stand windy conditions, and straw is a wonderful bedding for dogs."
While cats are generally self-reliant outdoors all year round, Risser said care still needs to be given when temperatures plummet.
"Cats are low-maintenance, but by no means no maintenance," Risser said. "For the most part, I just encourage most people to keep their cats indoors so you don't have a lot of worries of over-exposure to the cold."
Risser did point out that cats have a tendency to climb under the hoods of cars to stay warm on the engine block block during the winter, which can prove fatal if a person is unaware and they start up their car. Risser recommends thumping the hood of the car prior to starting it off in order to shoo away the frigid felines.
In addition to taking the proper steps this winter in order to maximize pet health, Risser pointed out that now is a great time to take care of important pet medical procedures such as spaying and neutering. February is, among other things, Responsible Pet Owner's Month as well as Spay and Neuter Month. As a result, many veterinarian offices and pet clinics offer their services at discounted prices. Risser said that his practice will be offering discounted prices on pet dental procedures because of Dental Health Month.
For more information, check out the following sites:
Spay-Neuter Services of Indiana, Inc.
Foundation Against Companion-Animal Euthanasia (FACE) low-cost spay-neuter clinic
Click here for a list of veterinary clinics in Indianapolis