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Winter prep: Keep your pets safe, dry this season
As you stock up on winter supplies for yourself and your family, give a thought to any four-legged family members. Dogs, cats, horses and other animals need many of the same things people do in the winter, and a little more attention. Just like people, dogs and cats can be more susceptible to sickness in the winter.
For instance, pets should limit their time outdoors, even if they are outdoor animals. A consistently wet coat can keep an animal cold, even if the temperature rises, so all pets should have a warm, dry shelter that's out of the wind.
Whether they're indoor or outdoor, when an animal comes inside, gently towel-dry, or even blow-dry their coats. Also, check their feet for clumps of ice or snow between their toes, damage to their foot pads, and so on. Watch for frostbite, which appears as reddish, white or gray skin that's flaking off.
A dirty, matted coat provides very little warmth, so keep your pets well groomed. Brush them frequently to remove mats, and only bathe them when necessary. Bathing can remove some of the oils in the coat that help provide insulation, so should be done less often during the winter. Also, never allow a bathed animal outside for more than a few minutes, until its coat is completely dry.
Keeping warm in colder weather takes more energy, so pets may need extra food, especially those that stay outside. Hydration is just as important in the winter months, so make sure fresh drinking water -- not snow -- is always available.
Cold floors can also give animals a chill, so make sure they have blankets and beds to lie on, too.
If pets are staying in the garage, be sure to store antifreeze and other chemicals out of their reach, and clean up any spills. Antifreeze can kill dogs and cats, even in small amounts.
Also, before starting your car, knock on the hood or honk the horn. Cats sometimes crawl under cars to nap on the warm engine, so be sure they're all cleared out before starting the engine. Do this for cars parked outdoors, too.
Leaving your pet alone in a car, summer or winter, is always a bad idea. Temperatures can be extreme, and if you leave the engine running, carbon monoxide poisoning becomes a risk.
Save space in your disaster-preparedness kit for the critters, too. PAWS, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (www.paws.org), recommends the following items for each pet in your disaster kit:
A minimum of three days' worth of food and water and medications for each animal, although up to two weeks' worth is recommended by some agencies
Food and water bowls
Carriers for each small animal, leashes and collars for each larger dog
Cat litter and litter box
Familiar blankets and towels, for bedding and to calm the animals
Toys and treats
Written instructions for each animal, in case you need to leave them with someone.
A pet first-aid kit is also recommended. You can buy one at a pet supply store, or create your own, with the following:
conforming bandage (3" x 5")
absorbent gauze pads (4" x 4")
absorbent gauze roll (3" x 1 yard)
cotton tipped applicators (1 small box)
antiseptic wipes (1 package)
emollient cream (1 container)
tweezers and scissors
instant cold pack
latex disposable gloves (several pairs)
proper fitting muzzle
first aid book for cats/dogs.
Keep each pet collared, with identification tags. Also consider microchipping your pets for more permanent identification.