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Warm pets, warm hearts

Living

WINTER WARMERS Pets feel the cold when temperatures drop, and need warm kennels and beds.

Ask the Vet

Esther Van Luipen

When I was growing up, pets spent most, if not all, of their lives outside. In my lifetime, they’ve gone from the farmyard to the backyard to the back kitchen to the bedroom. Things have changed so much that it’s often the husband who’s in ‘the dog house’, not the dog; the dog is in the bed…!
But some people still do have outside pets, and for these animals more than any others, the shift to colder weather means their owners really must look out for them and make sure they’re ready for the change.
All animals must be able to get out of the elements. A pet must have a well-insulated structure just large enough so that he can curl up inside to maintain body heat. The structure should also have a wind-block to protect it from wintry blasts.
When the weather really gets cold and there is frost at night, your pet could do with a heat mat. This is especially important to older animals, who find it harder to ‘heat their bones’. (Remember that a hot water bottle doesn’t stay hot long enough and can scald your pet before it cools. Electric heat mats made especially for pets are available.) Make sure that there’s always a supply of fresh, unfrozen water too.
Animals who spend any significant amount of time outside will need more calories during cold weather. Food is fuel, and they’ll need to burn it to stay warm.
Indoor pets don’t face the weather challenges outdoor pets do, but winter can be uncomfortable for them too.
For pets with arthritis, cold weather can be more painful, so ask your vet about supplements or medications that may help your pet feel better. A soft, heated bed may be much appreciated, too, especially by older pets. And remember that one of the best things you can do for a pet with joint problems is to keep the extra weight off: A pet who’s more sedentary in winter needs to eat less.
Some animals really can use the extra insulation of a well-fitted sweater or coat—older pets, and dogs who are tiny (such as Chihuahuas), or who are shorthaired and naturally lean (such as greyhounds or whippets). Overcoats can save you time drying your dog after a walk in rainy weather, especially if your pet’s longhaired.
Finally don’t forget to thump on your car’s hood in the morning to check there isn’t a cat snuggled up against its warm engine. Inside the house, make sure that your cat hasn’t snuck into the clothes dryer before you turn it on.
Cold-weather pet care is a mix of compassion and common sense. Use both in equal measure, and try to imagine yourself in your pet’s place. I’d prefer if pets were made part of the family and brought inside. But if you can’t, you certainly must pay attention to their changing needs regardless. When you warm your pet, your pet will warm your heart.

Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. She can be contacted at 094 9373955 or at living@mayonews.ie