‘Backyard dogs’ need special care in winter

Posted Dec. 06, 2010, at 3:11 p.m.

BANGOR — If it is too cold for you to stand at the door without your coat, it is probably too cold for your dog to be out without a coat, says Dr. Donna Spector, a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. Some dog breeds have dense undercoats that help protect them against very low temperatures, but most dogs don’t.

Coats are not just about fashion; there are many functional, non-couture coats available! Coats will not prevent frostbite on the ears, feet or tail, so don’t keep your dog out too long in freezing temperatures.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, every year it receives complaints about people who leave dogs outside in the cold. Cold weather spells extra hardship for “backyard dogs,” who often go without adequate food, water, shelter, or veterinary care. The winter months can also pose challenges for wildlife.

PETA recommends the following:

• Keep animals inside. This is especially important to remember when it comes to puppies and kittens, elderly animals, small animals, and dogs with short hair, including pointers, beagles, pit bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans. Short-haired animals will also benefit from a warm sweater or coat on walks.

• Don’t allow your cat or dog to roam freely outdoors. During winter, cats sometimes climb under the hoods of cars to be near warm engines and are badly injured or killed when the car is started.

• Wipe off your dogs’ or cats’ legs, feet, and stomachs after they come in from the snow. Salt and other chemicals can make your animals sick if they ingest them.

• Keep an eye out for strays. Take unidentified animals inside until you can find their guardians or get them to an animal shelter. If strays are skittish or otherwise unapproachable, provide food and water and call your local humane society for assistance in trapping them and getting them indoors.

• When you see dogs that have been left outdoors, provide them with proper shelter. Details on how to provide housing can be found here.

• When temperatures fall below freezing, birds and other animals may have trouble finding food and water. Hang bird feeders from trees or spread birdseed on the ground. Provide access to liquid water by filling a heavy water bowl and breaking the surface ice twice a day.

Adds Spector, with winter comes antifreeze from automobiles. Antifreeze is sweet in taste and dogs will readily lick or drink it. Antifreeze is extremely toxic and just a small amount can be fatal for dogs. Keep your dog out of the garage and off the driveway where they may encounter antifreeze or other harmful chemicals.

And, she says, Dogs should never be left in cars unattended, no matter what the season. Freezing cold temperatures are the main concern during the winter. If the car is left running during the winter (especially in the garage), carbon monoxide poisoning is a real threat.

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