Weatherproofing your pet

Dec 092007
Authors: Shannon Hurley

Chilly weather, a packed library and the promise of holiday relaxation mark the arrival of winter on campus as students and faculty prepare to enjoy their month-long break from the everyday pursuit of higher education.

Pet owners in particular must be primed for the holiday season as snowy playtime or lazy days at home offer hidden dangers for the companion animal that could turn deadly.

“As we get into these different seasons we have to educate people on different things that they might see,” said Cary Rentola, community relations manager at the Larimer Humane Society.

Picturesque snowstorms, beautiful holiday decorations and cold weather necessities all pose potentially serious risks to the livelihood of companion animals, requiring increased owner vigilance and education during the winter months.

“There are a lot of dangers out there, and it’s the pets that are going to pay,” adds Rentola.

Fido, it’s cold outside

Cold weather can be especially harsh on cats and shorthaired or small dogs that can easily get lost, freeze or suffer from frostbite.

“We see spikes in the number of strays that come in throughout the winter, especially after big snow storms,” explained Rentola.

Pets are more likely to become lost during or after snowstorms as the snow masks their ability to find their way back home. Such scenarios emphasize the necessity for cat and dog micro-chipping.

Cats pose a special danger when residing outside as many seek warmth under the hoods of cars. Unsuspecting humans will start their cars and unintentionally injure or kill a hidden cat with the fan belt.

Last January, two stray cats were brought into the Larimer Humane Society for this very reason. One survived, and one did not. Pet owners, as well as non-owners, must be aware and bang loudly on the hood of any car before starting the engine during colder temperatures.

For these reasons, along with incidence of disease and violence, outdoor cats will generally live to be about five years, while their indoor counterparts can reach the teens and even twenties.

Edible décor

Because dogs eat just about anything they come across and cats can be sneaky, supervision is paramount during the holidays. Decorations such as poinsettias, lilies, holly, mistletoe and even Christmas tree water present significant threats to a pet’s health.

Holly can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy when consumed by your pet, and live mistletoe induces gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, Web site Poinsettia ingestion results in similar consequences. To be safe, artificial alternatives should be used.

Unsupervised pets may also venture under indoor Christmas trees and drink the water. Toxins and fertilizers from the tree seep into the water causing harm to pets.

Cold weather necessities like coolant and antifreeze are also particularly dangerous to an animal’s well-being. Though it’s obvious that consumption of these products is dangerous for pets, car leaks in driveways or streets are not always easy to see. Dogs can bring in the chemicals from outside and accidentally consume them when licking their paws.

What’s worse, these toxins will result in certain death to pets. Using goods that contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol will help to keep animals safe.

Mittens for mutts

Though many pets have extra layers of fur and protection against the cold, some may be especially sensitive to the cold, like puppies, or lack an adequate coat to stay heated.

“My 3-year-old standard schnauzer’s paws are sensitive to snow which means he usually does his business pretty quickly so he can get back inside,” said Paul Simmons, a senior microbiology major. “It’s completely opposite with my 2-year-old border collie-lab mix though, she loves to romp around in the snow and wants to play in the cold for hours.”

Simmons’ dogs demonstrate how coat thickness plays a major role in cold weather comfort. Although both his dogs are relatively the same age and weight, the schnauzer’s thinner hair does little to retain heat, while the border collie-lab’s fuzzy undercoating allow for optimum outdoor fun in the snow.

Young and short-haired dogs, as well as some small breeds, sometimes require additional coverings when outside from the help of a fitted dog-coat or shoes. Most pet supply stores carry size appropriate cold-weather gear as these clothing items are necessary for protection from the cold and should not be based on fashion.

Smaller dogs and puppies may want to avoid the cold altogether and prefer remaining indoors to go to the bathroom, in which case, potty-training on pads becomes essential.

Oh the places you’ll go

Advanced planning is necessary when bringing your pet with you on your travels, although it is also crucial when leaving them behind. If taking your pet with you, transportation and housing arrangements need to be addressed ahead of time to ensure pet compatibility with your itinerary.

“We have gotten in animals that are surrendered because students wanted to take them home and mom and dad said no,” Rentola said.

She sees these incidences as especially concerning, as pets are being uprooted and further burden an already strained shelter system in Larimer County, she said.

Relatives or friends awareness of your pet situation is vital when planning a vacation or extended absence from your home residence. Just as your accommodations must contain all the resources necessary for your comfort and survival, this should also be the case for your pet.

“I have to plan on bringing extra food and toys, and have to stop more frequently while driving so that Sam can go to the bathroom,” said Jessica Link, a recently graduated social work major, explaining what its like to travel with her 3-year-old Bichon Frise.

Those pets that don’t get to accompany their owners still require planning and forethought before a vacation can begin. Pet sitting, boarding and friends or family are all options to be utilized when leaving a pet behind, however, personal and emergency information must be left with caretakers just as you would for a child.

“That’s a responsibility people need to think about, especially young adults, because now the roommate is left in this capacity,” Rentola said.

Staff writer Shannon Hurley can be reached at

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